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selected essays by 

Compiled with an introduction 

by Albert Mordell 
Preface by H. L. Trefousse 

Over the period from 1870 to 1878, 
Gideon Welles, Lincoln s Secretary of the 
Navy, wrote a number of articles which 
appeared in The Galaxy and the Atlan 
tic Monthly. Welles was disturbed by 
various charges made against Lincoln, 
his administration, and their policies and 
procedure during the Civil War and Re 
construction, and began this series of 
essays with the intention of setting 
the record straight. As time went on, 
however, Welles expanded the scope of 
his essays; as they became more general, 
the public was afforded its first glimpse 
into the actual inside operation of Abra 
ham Lincoln s administration. 

The essays concentrate upon some of 
the most dramatic events of the war. How 
did Lincoln arrive at the fateful decision 
to relieve Fort Sumter? Who was re 
sponsible for the planning and execution 
of the expedition against New Orleans? 
Why did the President decide to issue the 
famous Emancipation Proclamation? How 
was his decision to free the slaves re 
ceived by the Cabinet? How did Lincoln 
overcome the radical opposition to his 
renomination and how did the break be 
tween Johnson and his opponents origi 

(continued on back flap) 


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Owl .War irf "t^constr uction 

Selected Essays by 

Gideon Welles 

Civil War 



Compiled by 



New York 

Copyright 1959, by Albert Mordell, Editor 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 59-8383 






It is fortunate that the members of Abraham Lincoln s 
administration were among the most literate cabinet ministers 
in our history. Deeply conscious of the importance of the un 
precedented events in which they were playing such an im 
portant role, they sought to justify their actions to posterity 
in the publications they left behind. These diaries, books, and 
articles tended to reflect faithfully those violent clashes of 
personality and policy which form so important a background 
for the study of the Civil War. 

One of the most prolific of the writers in Lincoln s cabinet 
was the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. Best known for 
his three-volume diary which was published in the beginning 
of the twentieth century, he set forth many of his impressions 
long before, when he wrote a series of essays for The Galaxy 
and Atlantic Monthly magazines in the 1870 s. At first, he 
merely sought to correct a number of errors which he had 
detected in the writings of others, chiefly Thurlow Weed s 
Autobiography and Horace Greeley s American Conflict. As 
time went on, however, he expanded his scope. Over a period 
of eight years, his essays tended to become more general and 
the public was afforded one of its first inside glimpses of the 
trials and tribulations of Abraham Lincoln s administration. 
Since his diary was available to Welles when he wrote the 
articles, his assertions were not based on memory alone, and 
their accuracy has generally stood the test of time. Invaluable 
as a supplement to the diary, which they round out in many 
particulars, the essays have become an important source for the 
history of the Civil War. Here, for the first time, they have 
been collected for the interested reader. 

Gideon Welles was a Jacksonian Democrat from Connecticut 
who turned Republican when he became disgusted with his 
party s pro-slavery bias after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska 
Act in 1854. Taken into Lincoln s cabinet to give recognition 
to the many former Democrats who had voted for the Presi 
dent, Welles was opposed equally to extreme Southern theories 

6 Civil War and Reconstruction 

of secession and what he called radical Northern tendencies 
toward centralization. Earlier than most o his colleagues, he 
recognized the greatness of his chief, many of whose ideas he 
shared, and he observed carefully the masterful way in which 
Abraham Lincoln, the prairie lawyer, emerged triumphant over 
a host of enemies both inside and outside of the party. 

What makes these essays so interesting is their concentration 
on some of the most dramatic events of the war. How did 
Lincoln arrive at the fateful decision to relieve Fort Sumter? 
What measures did the Navy Department take to hold Fort 
Kckens? Who was responsible for the planning and execution 
of the expedition against New Orleans? Why did the President 
decide to issue the Emancipation Proclamation? How was his 
decision to free the slaves in rebellious areas received by the 
Cabinet? How did Lincoln overcome the radical opposition to 
his renomination and how did the break between Johnson and 
Ms opponents originate? The answers to these questions con 
stitute the theme of Secretary Welles* essays. 

One of the main purposes to the articles was Welles desire 
to repel accusations made against him during the Civil War. 
That he and not the Secretary of State, William H. Seward, 
appreciated the administration s decision to relieve Forts Sum- 
tor and Pickens, that the navy and not the army made possible 
the success of many amphibious operations were facts which he 
was anxious to place before the public. A hardworking and 
capable executive, he resented intimations that he had been 
a mere figurehead too ponderous to get anything done. In 
reality, his enterprise and skill transformed the Navy Depart 
ment and the fleet into important instruments of victory. There 
fore, it is easy to understand that he sought to counteract the 
excessive publicity given to the War Department and to the 
army* and in these pages, he accomplished his purpose. He had 
tfee facts; he marshalled them well, and ,the reader cannot help 
atairing the ptack of the Connecticut journalist who became 
Itead of the wartime 1 navy. 

Since Welles t>ublkhed these essays in eighteen separate 
fcctidea spread over a .period of eight years, from 1870 to 1878, 
hfe account might seem disjointed. In reality, however, it forms 

Preface 7 

a coherent whole. Two themes run through the entire series: 
The greatness of Abraham Lincoln and the dangers of centraliza 
tion. That the President knew just when to issue his Emancipa 
tion Proclamation, that he approached the problem of the 
relief of Fort Sumter in a masterful fashion, and that he sought 
to reconstruct the Union without further centralization im 
pressed Welles tremendously. In these pages, the Secretary of 
the Navy made it quite clear that Lincoln, and not Seward, 
was the real leader of the embattled nation. Welles, the Jack- 
sonian Democrat, had found a new hero. If he overemphasized 
his colleagues shortcomings at times, if he failed to appreciate 
the arguments of the other side, we can forgive him. He was 
merely trying to protect his hero. And he could not have picked 
a greater man. 

Taken as a whole, these essays so conveniently compiled by 
Mr. Mordell, and presented in two volumes, constitute the Civil 
War memoirs of the one cabinet member who was among Presi 
dent Lincoln s closest supporters. It is fortunate that they were 
done so well. 



Chapter Page 


The Facts of the Abandonment of the Gosport 

The Galaxy, X (July, 1870) 15 


Facts in Relation to the Expedition Ordered by the 
Administration of President Lincoln for the Relief 
of the Garrison in Fort Sumter 
The Galaxy, X (November, 1870) 36 


Facts in Relation to the Reinforcement of Fort 

Pickens, in the Spring of 1861 

The Galaxy, XI (January, 1871) 83 

With an Account of the Origin and Command of the 
First Three Naval Expeditions of the War, Part One 
The Galaxy, XII (November, 1871) 114 


With an Account of the Origin and Command of the 
First Three Naval Expeditions of the War, Part Two 
The Galaxy, XII (December, 1871) 145 


Their Plan of Reconstruction and the Resumption 

of National Authority, Part One 

The Galaxy, XIII (April, 1872) 180 


Their Plan of Reconstruction and the Resumption 

of National Authority, Part Two 

The Galaxy, XIII (May, 1872) 205 


The Galaxy, XIV (December, 1872) 228 


The Galaxy, XV (May, 1873) 256 


In 191 1, a diary kept by Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy 
In both Lincoln s and Johnson s administrations, was published 
in three volumes. It had a literary flair, set forth portraits of 
notables like a novel, and maintained points of view that have 
been part and parcel of those held by subsequent historians. (The 
keeping of diaries by cabinet members was not a new practice.) 
Its fame is second only to that of the diaries of John Quincy 
Adams, Secretary of State under Monroe. There had also been 
literary men in cabinets before Welles: novelists like John P. Ken 
nedy and James K. Paulding, and historians like George Bancroft. 
Welles, however, was not exactly a literary man; he was a 
journalist and an owner and editor of newspapers. 

It is amusing to recall some mild controversies of the 1830 s 
that Welles, a Jackson supporter and editor of the Hartford 
Times, had with the youthful Whittier, then editor of another 
Hartford paper, the New England Review, and an anti-Jackson 
man. Once, when Welles copied an editorial of Whittier s on 
dreams without indicating the source, Whittier called attention 
to the lapse in not giving him credit, adding: "Dreams are not 
always in the market, but we should think the said editor suffi 
ciently a dreamer, and his faculties sufficient somniferous to 
manufacture his own night visions." However, they later saw 
eye to eye on several matters, namely, the abolition of imprison 
ment for debt and a hatred of slavery. When the Republican 
Party was founded in the early fifties, both joined it. 

After Welles retired from Johnson s cabinet, he wrote a num 
ber of articles for the Galaxy and the Atlantic Monthly from 
1870 to 1878, in which year he died at the age of seventy-six. 
Richard West, Jr., who has written the only life of Welles, an 
excellent work, states that the chief motive in writing these arti 
cles was to correct mistaken views held by contemporary his 
torians. Howard K. Beale, in his article on Welles in the Dic 
tionary of American Biography, calls the Galaxy articles "impor 
tant historical documents." In 1874, Welles published in book 


12 Civil War and Reconstruction 

form an article dealing with Lincoln and Seward that had ap 
peared in three issues of the Galaxy. The book amplified the 
original articles, and the subtitle tells its story: "Remarks upon 
the Memorial address of Chas. Francis Adams, on the late W. H. 
Seward, With Incidents and Comments Illustrative of the Meas 
ures and Policy of the Administration of Abraham Lincoln and 
Views as to the Relative Positions of the Late President and 
Secretary of State/ Welles forever scotched the legend that Sew 
ard was the brains of the administration. 

These articles give us an insight into the workings of the 
cabinet, into naval operations, and, above all, lead to a correct 
appraisal of Lincoln s procedure. Posterity has endorsed most 
of Welles s views. On President Johnson s conciliatory attitude 
toward the late "rebels" and the right of the President to dismiss 
a member of his cabinet, controversial subjects for many years, 
Welles has been proven correct: he supported Johnson s position 
and stood out against the radical Republicans who then wielded 

It is not within my province to set forth the great accom 
plishments of Welles as Secretary of the Navy. He saw the value 
of John Ericsson s plans for the Monitor; he showed good judg 
ment in selecting David Farragut, over higher ranking officers, 
for the expedition against New Orleans. In his article on the 
subject, he states that he chose Farragut because he was loyal to 
the Union. Welles was not in a position to recount the struggles 
and difficulties that Farragut underwent with his personal 
friends, fellow officers in the Navy, who resigned. One of the 
last of such encounters was with Arthur Sinclair, grandfather 
of Upton Sinclair. Sinclair subsequently had charge of the build 
ing of the iron-clad Mississippi, intended to meet Farragut at 
the battle of New Orleans, but burned while still unfinished. 
(The present writer has given a full account of the crisis in 
Farragut s life in his article, "Farragut at the Crossroads," United 
State Naval Proceedings, February, 1931, pp. 151-61.) 

As the centenary of the Civil War approaches, these articles 
increase in importance. Although Welles was Secretary of the 
Navy, he does not devote all the articles to naval matters. He 
had had nearly twenty-five years of political experience, first 

Introduction 1$ 

holding office as a member of the House of Representatives In 
Connecticut in 1827. He held various other offices, having been 
State Comptroller and Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and 
Clothing in the Navy Department, candidate for governor in 
1856, and delegate to the Republican conventions of 1856 and 
1860, Hence, he was equipped to pass judgment upon the policies 
of Lincoln s and Johnson s administrations, and to expatiate on 
the presidential campaigns of 1860 and 1864. 

Above all, he saw Lincoln s greatness when he had been most 
criticized. Posterity has accepted his verdict on Lincoln. It has, 
more or less unanimously, admitted the validity of his criticisms 
of phases in the careers of Seward, Stanton, Chase, Sumner and 
Grant as a politician, and he is just in his comments on some 
naval officers and generals. 

Besides writing a Preface, Hans Louis Trefousse has supplied 
the brief introductory informative notes to the articles in this 


Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 


The Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia, was one 
of the most important Federal naval installations south 
of the Potomac. When the Confederates captured it 
in 1861, they also seized the partially submerged hulk 
of the U.S.S. Merrimack, a disaster which was keenly 
felt in the North. Thurlow Weed, the New York politi 
cian and close confidant of Secretary of State William 
H. Seward, later intimated in his autobiography that 
Gideon Welles had not shown sufficient energy in 1861, 
when warned about the dangers threatening Federal 
ships at Norfolk. To refute these allegations, Welles 
prepared his first article for Galaxy. 


N THE GALAXY for June there was published a chapter 
from the autobiography of Mr. Thurlow Weed, which contains, 
with a vast amount of egotism some facts perverted, and no little 
fiction. The author has a very fertile recollection, a prodigiously 
prolific memory, and in his conceits and details he remembers, 
and relates with a minuteness that is wonderful, events that never 
took place, or which occurred under circumstances widely dif 
ferent from his narration of them. 

This chapter of the autobiography commences with an ac 
count of two visits which were made to Washington in March 
and April, 1861-an interesting period of our history, Mr. Weed 
describes not only his observations, but the vigilant supervision 

The Galaxy, X (July, 1870). 


16 Civil War and Reconstruction 

which he exercised over the Government, and the admonitions, 
promptings, and instructions which he kindly administered to 
the President and various Departments. It is pleasant to read 
the incidents he relates. It is still more pleasant to witness the 
self-satisfied complacency and the modest and unaffected self- 
conceit which crop out in almost every sentence. That the auto- 
biographer was as officious and intrusive as he states, perhaps 
without any intention of being impertinent, is altogether prob 
able. Unfortunately for the accuracy of his memory and the 
truthfulness of his statements, many of his reminiscences are 
inconsistent with facts. The two opening paragraphs will bear 
republication. Mr. Weed says: 

The first and only inauguration I ever attended was 
that of Mr. Lincoln in 1861. It was known that designs 
upon his life while on his way from Springfield to Wash 
ington were providentially averted. It was also known that 
the question of seizing upon the government and its ar 
chives had been contemplated. The few troops in Washing 
ton were therefore stationed around the Capitol. During 
the ceremony of inauguration I walked about the grounds, 
encountering Major-General Wool, with a detachment of 
United States troops ready for action, and two pieces of 
cannon posted so as to rake an important avenue. I soon 
after found Lieutenant-General Scott, with the same num 
ber of cannon (on one of which the veteran was resting 
his elbow), posted in an equally advantageous position. 
This, in a country so long exempted from serious internal 
collisions, occasioned painful reflections. General Scott as 
sured me that these precautions were not unnecessary, and 
that they had not been taken a moment too early. All, 
however, passed without either an attack or an alarm. But 
it was not long before unequivocal symptoms of rebellion 
were manifested. When in Washington a few days after 
ward, I was awakened early one morning by Horace H. 
Riddell, formerly a resident of and representative from 
Alleghany county, N. Y., but then living at Harper s Ferry, 
who informed me that unless immediately reinforced the 
arsenal and armory at that place would be attacked and 
taken by enemies of the Government, who were banding 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 17 

together for that purpose; adding that there was not an 
hour to lose. I went immediately to the Secretary of War 
with this information. He thought -the danger could not 
be so imminent, but said that the subject should have im 
mediate attention. I went from the Secretary of War to 
General Scott, who promptly said that my information was 
confirmatory of that which he had received the evening 
previous. "But," he added, "what can I do? My effective 
force, all told, for the defence of the capital, is twenty-one 
hundred. Washington is as much in danger as Harper s 
Ferry. I shall repel any attack upon this city, but I cannot 
hazard the capital of the Union, as I should do by dividing 
my force, even to save Harper s Ferry." My friend Riddell s 
information was but too reliable. The next day brought 
us intelligence of the loss of Harper s Ferry. 

Soon ofter this, our first taste of rebellion, I received in 
formation from an equally reliable source that Gosport, 
with its vast supply of munitions of war, was in danger. 
Of this I informed the Secretary of the Navy at the break 
fast table of Willard s Hotel. Believing from his manner 
that he attached but little importance to my information, 
I reiterated it with emphasis, assuring him that it would be 
occasion for deep regret if Gosport were not immediately 
strengthened. Meeting the Secretary at dinner the same day, 
I renewed the conversation, and was informed that the 
matter would be attended to. This did not quiet my solici 
tude, and leaving the Secretary to the placid enjoyment of 
his dinner, I repaired to the White House. Mr. Lincoln, 
however, had driven out to visit some fortifications. I made 
another attempt in the evening to see him, but he was again 
out. Early the next morning, however, I found him, and 
informed him what I had heard of the danger that threat 
ened Gosport, and how, as I feared, I had failed to impress 
the Secretary of the Navy with the accuracy of my informa 
tion or the necessity of immediate action. "Well," said Mr. 
Lincoln, "we can t afford to lose all those cannon; I ll go 
and see Father Welles myself," as he did immediately. The 
result was that Admiral Paulding, who was then despatched 
to Norfolk, arrived just in time to enjoy an illumination 
occasioned by the burning of Government property, and 
witness the capture of Gosport. 

18 Civil War and Reconstruction 

I do not affect to misunderstand the scope and purpose of 
the allusions to myself, nor the impressions which the auto- 
biographer seeks to convey. They are in character and keeping 
with years of misrepresentation in relation to the abandonment 
of the navy-yard at Norfolk, and other events by which the 
administration of the Navy Department was for years maligned 
and wronged. This detraction and these slanders, covertly made, 
I wasted no time to correct, when employed in duties which 
demanded all my atention. Nor should I now notice them but 
for certain associations of the autobiographer, nor have given 
them a thought if they had been repeated by any anonymous 
defamer. Time and truth will dissipate the errors which have 
been industriously and insidiously sown some of which pervade 
the pages of what purport to be histories of the civil war and 
the two last administrations. 

Dates are important in developing history, and are some 
times essential to verify statements and facts. The arsenal and 
armory at Harper s Ferry were destroyed and the place was 
abandoned on the evening of the 8th of April, 1861. The navy- 
yard at Norfolk, as it is familiarly called, but correctly speaking, 
Gosport, was abandoned on the night of the 20th. 

Commodore Paulding testified before the Congressional Com 
mittee, who inquired into and reported upon the subject of 
"the destruction of the property of the United States at the 
navy-yard in Norfolk, and the armory at Harper s Ferry," as 

I was sent to Norfolk on the 16th of April, 1861. Under 
verbal orders of the Secretary of the Navy, left the Navy 
Department that evening and arrived at Norfolk the fol 
lowing afternoon, conveying despatches to Commodore Mc- 
Cauley, and with directions from .the Secretary of the Navy 
to confer with him and Commodore Pendergast with refer 
ence to the safety of the public property at the Norfolk 
Navy-yard. I performed that duty, and left Norfolk in the 
Baltimore boat on the afternoon of the 17th of April. 

He further testifies that he returned and reported to me, 
and that immediately after, 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 19 

On the afternoon of April 18th, I received from the 
Secretary of the Navy instructions to proceed to Norfolk 
with the Pawnee. I left Washington on the evening of the 
19th of April in the Pawnee, and arrived at Fortress Monroe 
on the following day at about four o clock. 

Mr. Weed says, after his friend Riddell awakened him early 
one morning: 

The next day brought us intelligence of the loss of Har 
per s Ferry. Soon after this, our first taste of rebellion, I 
received information from an equally reliable source that 
Gosport, with its vast supply of munitions of war, was in 
danger. Of this I informed the Secretary of the Navy at the 
breakfast table of Willard s Hotel. Believing from his 
manner that he attached but little importance to my infor 
mation, I reiterated it with emphasis, etc. 

This interview, if it ever took place, of which, however, I 
have no recollection, must have been on the morning of the 
19th, succeeding the adandonment of Harper s Ferry, which 
was on the 18th of April. When, therefore, Mr. Weed came to 
me with his "reliable information," which was no news to me, 
whatever it may have been to him, my "manner" did not indi 
cate excitement or sensational alarm. I heard his story, and its 
reiteration with emphasis, calmly and, I trust, respectfully; for 
I knew, what he did not know, that Commodore Paulding had 
at that moment my orders in his pocket, directing him to pro 
ceed to Norfolk, investing him with full power to protect the 
public property, and that he had been and was then collecting 
his forces to proceed as soon as his vessel and men could be got 
ready for the service. These facts I did not communicate to 
Mr. Weed, although he had given me what information he 

The President, on whom Mr. Weed represents he called 
with his information, was cognizant of these facts, and appears 
to have been equally uncommunicative, and, in order to rid 
himself of an inquisitive and perhaps troublesome gentleman 
who had no information to impart, dismissed him with the 

20 Civil War and Reconstruction 

remark that he would see me. In point of fact, .the President 
and myself had been two or three times in consultation the 
preceding day one a very lengthened interview with General 
Scotton the subject of the danger and defences of Norfolk 

These frequent interviews were necessary in consequence of 
the avalanche of duties and difficulties that were precipitated 
upon us in that eventful week, which commenced with the fall 
of Sumter and the issuing of the proclamation calling for troops; 
but was especially necessary on the 18th, from the fact that 
Chief Engineer Isherwood had arrived on the morning of that 
day, and reported the strange and unaccountable conduct of 
Commodore McCauley, and the unfortunate condition of affairs 
at the yard under his command. Immediately on receiving this 
report, I went with the President to General Scott with a view 
of getting a military force and a competent military officer to 
defend the station. I had some time previously had interviews 
with General Scott on this subject, who uniformly said, as he 
now repeated, that he would send troops for the shore defence, 
as was his duty, if he had them. But Congress had provided 
neither men nor means for -this great and terrible crisis. On 
this occasion he bewailed the necessity which compelled him to 
leave Harper s Ferry and its armory and arms to destruction 
a military station in which his duty and his honor as the head 
of the army were concerned; but he had no men to send for 
their protection, and the Massachusetts volunteers, who were 
directed to report there and at Fortress Monroe, had none of 
them arrived. The property there and at the navy-yard must, 
he said, be sacrificed. 

Mr. Weed says he "repaired to the White House" after see 
ing me. Mr. Lincoln, however, had driven out to visit some 
fortifications. There were, unfortunately for the autobiography, 
no fortifications about Washington at that time for the Presi 
dent to drive out and visit. Mr. Weed remembers too much, 
an unhappy infirmity with which he is sadly afflicted. As the 
President was "out," he called "early the next morning," the 
20th, "stated the danger that threatened Gosport, and how, as 
I feared, I had failed -to impress the Secretary of the Navy with 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 21 

the accuracy of my information or the necessity of immediate 
action." Commodore Paulding quietly left Washington in the 
Pawnee on the evening of the 19th, and was well on his way to 
Norfolk when this interview with the President purports to have 
taken place. I know not that the President was at that time 
aware of this fact, but he was fully conversant with all of the 
attending circumstances, at the same time knowing that special 
injunctions were imposed to give no publicity to the movement. 
He must have been amused when Mr. Weed related his inter 
view with me, my manner, and his fears that he had failed to 
impress me. The President on his part was reticent as myself; 
but allowed the author of the autobiography to cheer himself 
with the belief that he had impressed -the President, if he had 
failed with the Secretary of the Navy, by an assurance that we 
could not afford to lose all those cannon, and he would "see 
Father Welles/ 

The appellation "Father Welles" was at a later period often 
applied to me by naval officers, sailors, and others, but not at 
that early period of the administration, and never, that I am 
aware of, by President Lincoln. Nor would he then or at any 
time, be likely to use the expression as regards myself, when 
three of the members of the Cabinet Messrs. Bates, Cameron, 
and Seward were my seniors. The term was sometimes kindly 
and affectionately applied by him to Attorney-General Bates, 
the eldest of his political family, for whom he had a tender 
regard. The remark which is quoted in the autobiography may 
have been made by the President; but it is more likely to be the 
offspring of that prolific and fertile memory to which I have 
adverted, which could recollect details that never took place, 
and manufacture facts with facility for any emergency. 

Mr. Riddell may have awakened Mr. Weed "early one morn 
ing/ and he may have gone immediately to Secretary Cameron 
with tidings that Harper s Ferry was in danger; but in doing so 
he communicated no more information than when he told the 
Secretary of the Navy that Gosport was in danger. Mr. Cameron, 
like the Secretary of the Navy, was not as much excited as Mr. 
Weed expected he would be. He therefore went to General 
Scott, who "promptly said -that my information was confirmatory 

22 Civil War and Reconstruction 

of that which he had received the previous evening/ Each of 
the Secretaries might with a truth have given him the same 
answer as General Scott, for he told them nothing new. The 
-truth is, the Government had other, earlier, and more authentic 
sources of information than Mr. Weed. The information which 
the Departments received did not always come through him, 
strange as it may seem to him, and to those who read and credit 
the pages of his autobiography. Despatches sometimes reached 
the Secretaries direct, without passing under his inspection, or 
through his hands, and there were, as he well knows, depart 
ments of the government which never made him their confidant. 
I do not question that he was as active, as officious, and as in 
trusive as he describes; but he was of vastly less consequence 
than his imagination led him to suppose. In the matter of the 
autobiography, due allowance must be made for one who is the 
hero of his own story, and a mind never endowed with a very 
scrupulous regard for facts in a partisan practice of half a 
century of fierce and reckless party warfare. 

I had not, as already stated, during the eventful years of the 
war, the leisure to correct the errors and misrepresentations 
which were made by unscrupulous partisans, some of which have 
been, in ignorance of the facts, incorporated into what purport 
to be the histories of those times. 

This occasion is not inappropriate to bring out the facts in 
relation to the condition and capture of the navy-yard at Nor 
folk, the policy of the Government, the course which the Ad 
ministration pursued, and the attending circumstances, all of 
which have been much misrepresented and only imperfectly 

At the time of Mr. Lincoln s inauguration, and for several 
weeks thereafter, he and others indulged the hope of a peaceful 
solution of the pending questions, and a desire, amounting 
almost to a belief, that Virginia and the other border States 
might, by forbearance and a calm and conciliatory policy, con 
tinue faithful to the Union. Two-thirds of the Convention then 
in session at Richmond were elected as opponents of secession, 
and the people of that State were in about that proportion op 
posed to it. But the Union element, in the Convention and out 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 23 

of it, was passive and acquiescent, while the secessionists were 
positive, aggressive, and violent; and, as is almost always the 
case in revolutionary times, the aggressive force continually in 
creased in strength and exactions at the expense of those who 
were peacefully inclined. It was charged that the new Adminis 
tration was inimical to the South, was hostile to Southern insti 
tutions, and would use its power to deprive the people and 
States of their rights by coercive measures. In order to counter 
act these unfounded prejudices and to do away with these 
misrepresentations, which were embarrassing to the Adminis 
tration just launched upon a turbulent sea, and to conciliate 
and satisfy the people of Virginia and the Convention then in 
session, the President desired that there should be no step taken 
which would give offence; and, to prevent any cause of irrita 
tion, he desired that not even the ordinary local political changes, 
which are usual on a change of administration, should be made. 
In regard to the navy-yard at Norfolk, he was particularly 
solicitous that there should be no action taken which would 
indicate a want of confidence in the authorities and people, or 
which would be likely -to beget distrust. No ships were to be 
withdrawn, no fortifications erected. We had reports from that 
station and from others that there were ardent secessionists 
among the civil and naval officers, and assurances, on the other 
hand, that most of them were patriotic and supporters of the 
Union. It was difficult, there and elsewhere, to distinguish be 
tween the true and the disaffected officers of the service. Some 
had already sent in their resignations; others, it was understood, 
proposed to do so if any conflict took place between the State 
and Federal Governments; and there were many who occupied 
an equivocal and doubtful position. Among those who hesitated 
to avow themselves on either side, and were undetermined how 
to act, were officers who subsequently took a firm stand and 
rendered gallant service in the war which followed. 

Commodore McCauley, who was in command of the Norfolk 
yard, I had personally known in former years, and esteemed as 
a worthy and estimable officer. His reputation as a Union man 
in 1861 was good, and all my inquiries in relation to him were 
satisfactorily answered. His patriotism and fidelity were beyond 

24 Civil War and Reconstruction 

doubt; but events proved that he was unequal to the position 
he occupied in that emergency. 

Commodore Alden, whom I sent to Norfolk in special trust 
on the llth of April, with orders to take command of and bring 
out the Memmack, but who was prevented by Commodore 
McCauley, wrote me the succeeding November, six months after 
the abandonment of the navy-yard, in regard to Commodore 

I believe, indeed I know, that the old hero who has 
fought so well for his country could have none but the best 
and purest motives in all he did; but he was surrounded 
by masked traitors whom he did not suspect, and in whose 
advice he thought there was safety. The cry, too, was raised, 
and in everybody s mouth, officers and all, "If they move 
that ship, the Merrimack, it will bring on a collision with 
the people outside, who are all ready, if anything of the 
kind is done, to take the yard." Besides, Commodore Pauld- 
ing, whom I accompanied to Norfolk, expressed the idea 
that if we could not do anything better, she (the Merri 
mack), with her guns on board, would make a good battery 
for the defence of the yard. This opinion influenced Com 
modore McCauley not a little. 

If Commodore McCauley had not the activity and energy 
which were essential to a revolutionary period, he was an old 
trusted officer, who had not served out one-third his term as 
commandant of the station. To remove him would have neces 
sitated extensive changes, involving an entire reorganization of 
the government of the yard, and consequently a departure from 
the President s policy of permitting things to continue undis 
turbed in Virginia. Whatever negotiations, complications, or 
correspondence were going forward at that period to insure 
harmony and peace, though connected more or less with the 
occurrences here related, need not be now detailed. It is suf 
ficient to say that no military force was ordered to Norfolk; 
no fortifications were erected for the defence of the navy-yard; 
a passive course was enjoined upon the Navy Department, and 
the military also, in relation to that station. A large amount 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 25 

of property had been accumulated at the navy-yard, and a 
number of vessels were then in a dismantled condition, without 
armament or crews. To attempt to refit them or put them in 
condition to be removed, or to remove the stores, would, it was 
thought, indicate distrust, and give the secessionists an argument 
to be used against the Administration, accused of a design to 
subjugate and coerce Virginia. 

Not until the last of March did the President fully and 
finally decide to attempt to relieve Fort Sumter. He never pro 
posed or intended to order it to be evacuated; but certain 
assurances and committals which had been made embarrassed 
him, and a hope that in some way there would be an adjustment 
of difficulties without a resort to arms caused him to hesitate, 
and delayed his final decision. The condition of that fort and 
the garrison had received immediate attention after the inaugu 
ration, and the Cabinet was earnest and almost unanimous for 
its prompt reinforcement. Numerous consultations were held on 
the subject, to some of which Generals Scott and Totten were 
invited. The deliberate and united opinion of these officers 
was unqualified against any attempt to reinforce or supply the 
garrison, which they pronounced utterly impracticable, and 
which, if attempted, would result in a failure, with a waste of 
blood and treasure. 

These arguments, and an elaborate written report which 
they submitted by order of the President, had an influence on 
him and several of the members of the Cabinet, who felt that 
the opinions of military men should have weight on a military 
question. It is generally known, however, that one of the mem 
bers of the Cabinet had from the first opposed any attempt to 
relieve the garrison, and one had been and continued through 
out persistent and emphatic in its favor. For some days the 
President was undetermined what course to take. Delay was 
moreover important until the Administration could get in 
working order; but the supplies at Sumter were getting short, 
and he finally decided, on the 30th of March, that an effort 
should be made to send supplies to the garrison. 

The attempt to relieve Major Anderson, though a military 
question, was a political necessity. It became a duty of the Gov- 

26 Civil War and Reconstruction 

ernment after all conciliatory efforts were exhausted. The expedi 
tion to supply the garrison was under the direction of the War 
Department, in which the navy cooperated. But the whole 
combined military and naval force of the Government was feeble. 
Congress had adjourned on the 4th of March without making 
any provision for increasing the naval strength, although the 
danger of a civil war was imminent; no increased appropria 
tions were made. The navy was restricted to a strictly peace 
establishment, with a force limited by law to eight thousand 
five hundred men. But five vessels were in commission in all 
our Atlantic ports. 

The Navy Department had quietly commenced recruiting, 
and on the 29th of March Commodore Breese, then in command 
of the Brooklyn Navy-yard, was ordered to send two hundred 
and fifty seamen to Norfolk, a vulnerable point if Virginia 
should attempt to secede. On the next day, however, the 30th 
of March, the President informed me that he had come to the 
conclusion that supplies should be sent to Major Anderson, and, 
if resistance was made, that the garrison should be reinforced. 
To execute, and, if it became necessary, to enforce his orders, 
a naval force would be required. As we then had but three 
naval steamers that were available two having a few days 
previous been sent to the Gulf by special request of General 
Scott the Harriet Lane, a revenue cutter, was transferrred by 
the Secretary of the Treasury to the navy to form a part of the 
expedition. The two hundred and fifty seamen on the receiving- 
ship at Brooklyn, whom I had directed on the 29th to be sent 
to Norfolk, were transferred to the Powhatan, which was to be 
the flag-ship of the squadron. The Pocahontas, one of the 
vessels of the Home Squadron, which I had detained and ordered 
to Norfolk by way of precaution early in March, was one of the 
three vessels temporarily detached and detailed for the expedi^ 
tion. To supply her place I, on the 30th of March, the day I 
received the President s decision, ordered the sloop~of-war Cum 
berland, then at Hampton Roads, destined for the West Indies, 
to proceed to Norfolk. The Cumberland was a sailing vessel 
which could not be made available for the Sumter expedition. 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 27 

She was the flag-ship of Commodore Pendergrast, who was in 
command of the Home Squadron, and it was a satisfaction that 
so experienced an officer could be associated with Commodore 
McCauley, with a full crew, in case of an emergency. The Presi 
dent and Secretary of State proposed that Commodore Pender 
grast should go to Vera Cruz, in consequence of certain complica 
tions in that quarter; but the condition of affairs at home made 
it advisable that he and his flag-ship should be detained in the 
waters of Virginia. With the exception of the Cumberland, the 
Sumter expedition took from the Navy Department on the 6th 
of April every available naval vessel. It was at this culminating 
period that vessels were most wanted in the Chesapeake and 
on the Potomac; for, in case of a conflict at Charleston, it was 
uncertain what would be the attitude of Virginia. I felt hopeful, 
however, that the Cumberland would be adequate for the pro 
tection of the yard from any attack by water. The defence by 
land was a military measure, in which she could also participate, 
and render efficient assistance, if necessary. 

There were many circumstances attending the Sumter ex 
pedition which are interwoven with this subject, -that are not 
generally known; but, as I have said, they belong to the history 
of those times. Allusion to some of them cannot be wholly omit 
ted in stating the proceedings of the navy and the Navy De 
partment, and the policy and acts of the Administration at 
tending the destruction of the navy-yard at Norfolk. The men 
on the receiving-ship at Brooklyn, whom Commodore Breese 
had been directed on the 29th of March to send to Norfolk, 
were diverted to that expedition, and placed on the Powhatan. 
This important vessel, by an irregular and most extraordinary 
proceeding, and against the final and express orders of the Presi 
dent, detached from the expedition she was to lead after she 
left the Brooklyn Navy-yard, and withdrawn for several weeks, 
until after Sumter fell and Norfolk was abandoned, from the 
control of the Navy Department, and sent to the Gulf, where 
she was not needed, instead of going to Charleston and then 
returning North, where she was most wanted. 

On the 6th of April every available naval steamer at the 

28 Civil War and Reconstruction 

disposal of the Department, and all the men excepting those on 
the Cumberland, sailed for Sumter. What was to be their re 
ception, what would be the determination of the secession or 
ganization at Charleston, and what the result of the attempt to 
relieve the garrison, were matters uncertain, but of deep anxiety. 
In a few days all doubts were removed. The secessionists, on 
being apprised of the determination of the Administration, and 
of the departure of the expedition, commenced immediate 
hostilities. They opened fire on Sumter on the 12th of April, 
before the vessels reached Charleston. The fort was evacuated 
on the 14th. Three days after the evacuation of Sumter, the 
Virginia Convention joined the Confederates. In that period 
of uncertainty, while hoping for the best, but in anticipation 
of the worst, I wrote Commodore McCauley, in command of the 
Norfolk Navy-yard, on the 19th of April, the squadron being 
then on its way to Charleston, that, "in view of the peculiar 
condition of the country and of events that have already tran 
spired, it becomes necessary that great vigilance should be exer 
cised in guarding and protecting the public interests and prop 
erty committed to your charge. ... If other precautions are 
required, you will immediately apprise the Department/ 

In the same communication he was informed, in view of the 
President s policy and the attitude of Virginia, "it is desirable 
that there should be no steps taken to give needless alarm; but 
it may be best to order most of the shipping to sea or to other 
stations"; and he was further directed to "keep the Department 
advised of the condition of affairs; of any cause of apprehension, 
should any exist." 

On the llth of April I directed Commodore Breese to send 
two hundred men to Norfolk, if that number had been enlisted. 
Commander now Commodore Alden, the present Chief of the 
Bureau of Navigation, was ordered on the same day, the llth, 
to report to Commodore McCauley, to take charge of the steamer 
Merrimack, and deliver her over to the commanding officer at 
Philadelphia. Orders were sent to Commodore McCauley at the 
same time to have the Merrimack and Plymouth prepared im 
mediately for removal, and that there should be no delay. Mr. 
Isherwood, Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering, was 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 29 

directed on the following day, the 12th, to proceed to Norfolk 
and give his personal attention to putting the engines of the 
Merrimack in working condition. 

On the 14th of April Fort Sumter was evacuated, and on the 
15th President Lincoln issued his proclamation calling for 
seventy-five thousand troops. On the succeeding day the follow 
ing letters were sent, respectively, to Commodore McCauley, 
commanding the navy-yard, and to Commodore Pendergrast, 
commanding the above squadron, by the hands of Commodore 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, April 16, 1861 

The events which have transpired since my confidential 
communication to you of the 10th instant impose additional 
vigilance and care in protecting the public property under 
your charge, and placing the vessels and stores, if necessary, 
beyond jeopardy. Referring to my letter of the 10th, you 
will continue to carry out the instructions therein contained. 
The Engineer-in-Chief, B. F. Isherwood, who was despatched 
to Norfolk to aid in putting the Merrimack in condition to 
be moved, reports that she will be ready to take her de 
parture on Thursday. It may not be necessary, however, that 
she should leave at that time unless there is immediate 
danger pending. But no time should be lost in getting her 
armament on board; and you will also place the more 
valuable public property, ordnance stores, etc., on shipboard, 
so that they can at any moment be moved beyond the reach 
of seizure. With diligence on your part, it is not anticipated 
that any sudden demonstration can be made which will 
endanger either the vessels or stores. The Plymouth and 
Dolphin should be placed beyond danger f immediate as 
sault at once, if possible. The Germantown can receive on 
board stores and ordnance from the yard, and be towed out 
by the Merrimack if an assault is threatened. Men have been 
ordered from New York to man and assist in moving the 
vessels; but recent demands have left an insufficient number 
to meet the requisition. Under these circumstances, should 
it become necessary, Commodore Pendergrast will assist you 
with men from the Cumberland. You will please submit this 
letter and and my confidential communication of the 10th 

30 Civil War and Reconstruction 

to Commodore Pendergrast who will assist and cooperate 
with you in carrying the views of the Department into 
effect. As it is difficult to give instructions in detail, the 
Department has thought proper to despatch Commodore 
Paulding to Norfolk, who will be the bearer of this com 
munication, and explain to yourself and Commodore Pend 
ergrast the views and purposes of the Department. You 
will be pleased to advise with him freely and fully as to 
your duties and the interests of the Government in the 
present threatening emergency. The vessels and stores under 
your charge you will defend at any hazard, repelling by 
force, if necessary, any and all attempts to seize them, 
whether by mob violence, organized effort, or any assumed 

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, yours, etc., 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 
Commodore C. S. McCAULEY, Norfolk, Virginia. 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, April 16, 1861 

A state of things has arisen which renders the immediate 
departure of the Cumberland, as originally intended, inex 
pedient. Events of recent occurrence, and the threatening 
attitude of affairs is some parts of our country, call for the 
exercise of great vigilance and energy at Norfolk. Confi 
dential communications have been heretofore made to Com 
modore McCauley on these subjects, which he will submit 
to you; and Commodore Paulding, who brings -this letter 
to you, will verbally and more in detail explain the views 
of the Department. Please to advise freely and fully with 
both these gentlemen, and cooperate with them in defend 
ing die vessels and public property at the navy-yard. As 
it may become necessary to render assistance from the force 
under your command. 

Until further orders the departure of the Cumberland 
to Vera Cruze will be deferred. In the mean time you will 
lend your assistance and that of your command toward the 
vessels now in the yard in condition to be moved, placing 
the ordnance and ordnance stores on board for moving, and 
in case of invasion, insurrection, or violence of any kind, to 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 31 

suppress It, repelling assault by force If necessary. The 
Cumberland can render effective service, and it is deemed 
fortunate that the Government is enabled to avail itself of 
your service and that of your command, at this juncture, 
at Norfolk. 

I am sir respectfully, your obedient servant, 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 
Commodore G. J. PENDERGRAST, commanding U. S. sloop 
Cumberland, Norfolk Virginia. 

Commodore Paulding was at that time attached to the Navy 
Department as its detailing officer; and lest there should be 
some misapprehension, neglect, or wrong, I gave him verbal 
orders to go to Norfolk, personally inspect the condition of the 
navy-yard, satisfy himself of the fidelity and vigilance of the 
officers and men, and to consult and advise at his discretion 
with Commodore McCauley and Pendergrast. Many of the most 
important orders given at that early day were verbal, unwritten 
instructions, for great infidelity pervaded the departments. Con 
fidence was impaired, distrust prevailed, and, when treachery 
was so extended and deep, penetrating every branch of the 
Government, extreme caution became necessary in regard to 
every movement. 

Commodore McCauley wrote me on the 16th that the Merri- 
mack would probably be ready for temporary service on the 
evening of the next day. Commodore Paulding returned on the 
17th, and made a favorable report of affairs, of the fidelity 
and Union feeling of the officers in command; said that the 
engines of the Merrimack were in order, and she would leave 
on the following day. But Chief Engineer Isherwood returned 
to Washington the next morning the 18th and reported that 
Commodore McCauley had refused to permit the Merrimack 
to depart after her engines were in order and men to move her 
were on -board, and had directed the fires that were kindled 
to be drawn. 

Immediately on receiving this report I went with the Presi 
dent to General Scott to procure a competent military officer, 
and, if possible, a military force, for the shore defences of the 

32 Civil War and Reconstruction 

navy-yard. Information had readied us that the Convention at 
Richmond had yielded to secession. We also heard of the rapid 
rising of the insurgents, and of their intention to seize at once 
Harper s Ferry, the navy-yard at Norfolk, and Fortress Monroe, 
not one of which had a proper military support. There were 
no fortifications whatever to defend the navy-yard from the 
insurgents, no military force was there, and the expectation 
that the Cumberland and the small number of sailors would be 
able to temporarily hold the yard until military assistance could 
arrive was shaken by the intelligence that morning received, 
and the further fact that vessels were being sunk to obstruct 
the channel. General Scott, on our application for military aid, 
said we were asking an impossibility. He assured us he had no 
troops to send for the defence of the navy-yard, and that it was 
not susceptible of defence if he had them; that any men he 
might order there would almost certainly be captured; that 
it was enemy s country, without fortifications or batteries for 
them to occupy; that seamen and marines who might be on 
shipboard for water defence could perhaps do something toward 
protecting the public property, and escape if overwhelmed, 
provided the obstructions which we heard were being sunk in 
the channel did not prevent, but there could be no escape for 
for soldiers. The General stated, with a heavy heart, that he had 
no troops to spare for the defence of Harper s Ferry, and that 
the arms and stores at that place must inevitably be lost. 

The garrison at Fortress Monroe was, he feared, insufficient 
to repel the force which it was understood was organizing to 
attack it. He had not, he said, men sufficient to protect Wash 
ington if a formidable demonstration was made. At length he 
promised to send Colonel Delafield of the Engineer Corps, and 
I think consented, before the Pawnee left, that a battalion of 
the Massachusetts volunteers, raised under the proclamation of 
the 15th, might accompany Commodore Paulding, provided 
they had reached Hampton Roads. They were, he said, un 
disciplinedwould be good for nothing as yet for serious fight 
ing, but would be serviceable in throwing up batteries under 
the direction of the engineer. For the present, his first great 
duty, with his feeble force, was to defend Washington, and next 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 33 

to Washington, Fortress Monroe, which was the key to Washing 
ton, Norfolk, Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay, and the rivers which 
entered it. He therefore could not, and would not, consent to 
part with a single regular for either Harper s Ferry or the Nor 
folk Navy-yard; and his opinion frankly expressed to us was 
that the public property in each of those places must, in case 
of an attack, be sacrificed. The most that could be done was to 
prevent the vessels and stores from passing into the hands of 
the insurgents. 

Harper s Ferry was abandoned that evening. 

As but little assistance could be derived from the military, 
I lost not a moment, after parting from the President and 
General Scott, in giving the following order to Commodore 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, April 18, 1861. 

You are directed to proceed forthwith to Norfolk and 
take command of all the naval forces there afloat. 

With the means placed at your command, you will do 
all in your power to protect and place beyond danger the 
vessels and property belonging to the United States. On no 
account should the arms and munitions be permitted to 
fall into the hands of the insurrectionists, or those who 
would wrest them from the custody of the Government; 
and, should it finally become necessary, you will, in order 
to prevent that result, destroy the property. 

In carrying into effect these orders, you are invested 
with full power to command the services of the entire naval 
force, and you will, if necessary, repel force by force in 
carrying out these instructions. It is understood that the 
War Department will detail Colonel Richard Delafield, or 
some other competent officer, with a command to aid and 
assist in protecting and guarding the yard and property at 
Gosport and vicinity, and you will cooperate with that 
officer in .this object. 

I am sir, respectfully, etc., 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 
Commodore HIRAM PAULDING, Washington, D. C. 

34 Civil War and Reconstruction 

This order was to repel, not to assail; the Administration 
continued to be forbearing, and to the last was not aggressive. 
Extreme men were dissatisfied and censorious because the Ad 
ministration did not attack, though not prepared. On to Sumter 
was the word, as at a later period the cry, equally inconsiderate, 
was "On to Richmond." 

Commodore Alden, who, as already remarked, had been sent 
on special duty to Norfolk on the llth of April, returned on 
the morning of the 19th, and confirmed the statements of Chief 
Engineer Isherwood. The Cabinet was in session when he ar 
rived. The loss of Harper s Ferry the preceding evening, and 
the movements at Norfolk, with the threatened attack upon 
the navy-yard and upon Fortress Monroe, were among the mat 
ters under consideration. When Commander Alden arrived he 
went to the Navy Department, and finding me absent, followed 
to the Executive Mansion, and, calling me from the council, 
related the strange condition of things at Norfolk, and the 
bewildered and incapacitated state of mind of Commodore Mc- 
Cauley. After hearing his statement I introduced him to the 
President and Cabinet, to whom he recapitulated the statement 
which he had made to me. He was immediately attached to the 
expedition under Commodore Paulding, and returned to Nor 
folk that evening. 

The Pawnee reached Washington from the Sumter expedi 
tion just in time to be despatched to Norfolk. She was placed 
at the disposal of Commodore Paulding, with all the naval 
officers, men, and means that were at command, and left Wash 
ington on the evening of the 19th. Captain Wright, of the 
army engineers, now Brevet Major-General Wright, was substi 
tuted for Colonel Delafield, and accompanied the expedition. 
The Pawnee reached Fortress Monroe on the afternoon of the 
20th. Commodore Paulding procured from Colonel Dimmick, 
in command, three hundred and fifty Massachusetts volunteers, 
who had been enlisted, embarked at Boston, and reached Hamp 
ton Roads within four days after the proclamation of the 
President of the 15th. 

When Commodore Paulding arrived at Norfolk on the 
evening of the 20th, he found that the vessels at the yard had 

Mr. Welles in Answer to Mr. Weed 35 

been scuttled and were sinking. Nothing in his opinion, re 
mained but to burn them and destroy such property as could 
not be carried away by the Cumberland and Pawnee, as General 
Scott had said would be inevitable, to prevent it from passing 
into the possession of the insurgents. 

Of the manner in which the orders of the Navy Department 
were executed, or of the expediency and necessity of the measures 
taken in the first instance by Commodore MoCauley, after con 
sulting with and being advised by Commodore Paulding to 
scuttle the vessels and destroy the guns, and of the completion 
of the work of destruction thus commenced by Commodore 
Paulding when he arrived, it is unnecessary to speak at this 
time. The whole was an exercise of judgment and of authority 
by three experienced, brave, tried, and faithful officers in a 
great emergency, for which Congress had not provided and the 
country was not prepared. Great censure has been bestowed 
upon them by persons who know little of the circumstances, and 
who had none of the responsibilities. Whether the conclusions 
of these officers were right or wrong, they were such as in 
their judgment were best and were precisely such as General 
Scott had said would be inevitable. 

These proceedings, it will be borne in mind, were all of 
them before a blockade had been ordered. The first proclama 
tion of the President, directing a blockade or closing of the 
Southern ports, was issued on the 19th of April, the day on 
which Commodore Paulding went a second time to Norfolk, 
invested with plenary powers. But this proclamation did not 
include Virginia; that State and North Carolina were exempted 
from its operation. The Administration was determined to 
occupy no hostile attitude toward Virginia so long as a single 
hope remained that her Government and people would con 
tinue faithful to the Union. It was not until the 27th of April 
that her ports were ordered to be put under blockade, just 
one week after the abandonment of Norfolk. 


Fort Sumter 





One of the strangest episodes of the Civil War was 
Secretary of State Seward s diversion of the Powhatan 
from Fort Sumter to Fort Pickens. Welles s reactions 
to this interference with his department, his explana 
tions of Seward s motives, and his appreciation of the 
President s troubles constitute the subject matter of the 
following article. 


QUESTION that presented itself during the four event 
ful years of his administration gave President Lincoln greater 
annoyance and embarrassment than the difficult one relating 
to Fort Sumter and its garrison, which met him at the very 
threshold of his Presidential career. He had said in his inau 
gural address, and honestly and sincerely intended, that "the 
power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess 
the property and places belonging to the Government, and to 
collect die duties and imposts; -but beyond what may be neces 
sary for these objects there will be no invasion, no using of 
force against or among the people anywhere/ 

On the day succeeding the utterance of these solemn as- 

The Galaxy, X (November, 1870). 


Fort Sumter 37 

surances, he was informed that the garrison in Fort Sumter, 
which had been threatened for months, was short of provisions, 
and that this, the only fortress or place in South Carolina, the 
State which for more than thirty years had been discontented 
and anxious for a disruption of the Union which had taken 
the open lead in secession which was active in fomenting and 
promoting sectionalism and insurrection in the cotton, and, if 
possible, in all the slave States that this last remaining property 
and post of the Federal Government in South Carolina could 
not, in the opinion of Major Anderson and his officers, be 
relieved and reinforced with less than twenty thousand efficient 
and well-disciplined men. The Government had no such army, 
and it was utterly impossible to collect and organize one in 
season, even if there were authority to raise one before resist 
ance was made or any actual hostilities existed. The retiring 
Administration had taken no step to sustain or enforce its 
authority; had thrown almost the whole military force of the 
Government in broken fragments on the distant frontiers; had 
stationed no strong military force in the States when they be 
held this vast conspiracy organizing. A few regiments placed 
at one or two points early, could not only have asserted and 
maintained the Federal authority and deterred rebellion, but 
would have served as a nucleus or rallying point to encourage 
and inspire confidence in the patriotic Union men, who were 
at least a moiety of the whole population. If the Administra 
tion of Mr. Buchanan did nothing, as is claimed, to encourage 
the rebellion, it did little to prevent or suppress it. Under the 
plea or pretext that he did not possess authority to coerce a 
State, Mr. Buchanan had failed to maintain the national in 
tegrity. He had witnessed the rising insurrection, had seen forts, 
navy-yards, custom-houses, and public property wrested from 
the possession of the Government and pass into the hands of 
the insurgents, without any serious attempt to prevent it. That 
he and those in whom he confided intended to excite, or that 
they anticipated the terrible civil war which ensued, may not 
be true; but it is not to be denied that .they took no decisive 
steps against it. The political sympathies of the Buchanan Ad 
ministration were with the secessionists, as opposed to those 

38 Civil War and Reconstruction 

who succeeded them in the administration and to the party 
which elected Mr. Lincoln. With these feelings and this policy, 
the Administration o Buchanan had been passive and indif 
ferent; had, through the four months which intervened between 
the election in November and the inauguration in March, lifted 
no hand, had certainly performed no efficient act toward sup 
pressing one of the most formidable insurrections that was ever 
instituted, and which was openly and avowedly maturing. To 
no small extent had the Democratic party, which opposed the 
election of Mr. Lincoln, permitted itself to be led astray by the 
policy of Mr. Buchanan. The secessionists attempted to justify 
their movements by an abuse of the doctrine of State rights and 
of a strict construction of the Constitution, which was the 
basis of the old Democratic organization. As the Federal Con 
stitution contained no clause prohibiting a State from with 
drawing from the Union, it was denied that the Federal Govern 
ment was endowed with power to compel or coerce a State to 
remain in the Union. For a time, and in the absence of any 
argument, this absurdity, which was not even specious, had an 
influence under impassioned party excitement with many Demo 
crats, who, having opposed the election of Mr. Lincoln, per 
mitted themselves to be hurried along by the Buchanan policy 
and the influence of party organization into dangerous and 
unjustifiable opposition, which for a time countenanced and 
aided in giving impulse to the secession movement. It is no 
doubt true that many of the Democrats began to hesitate and 
ultimately to dissent from the extremists of their party, as the 
object, purpose, and ends of the secessionists were developed; 
but at the commencement of his administration. Mr. Lincoln 
had these party opponents who disavowed secession to meet, as 
well as the actual disunionists. 

Under the influence and madness of party the secessionists, 
acting with an ulterior purpose, had contrived to secure posses 
sion of the organized political and constitutional governments 
of each of the Southern States. Those in insurrection had, 
therefore, the form of legal State authority to sanction their 
acts. The Administration of Buchanan conceded this form of 
resistance to the Federal Government as legitimate, and by its 

Fort Sumter 39 

non-coercive policy had made the secession movement powerful 
and the Federal Government almost powerless. 

The new Administration was denounced in advance of any 
act, and even before the President was inaugurated, as hostile 
to the Souththe enemy of Southern institutions the opponent 
of State rights intent on the abolition of slavery, and desiring 
to oppress the people by coercive and arbitrary measures. The 
stability and power of the national Union began to be doubted. 
Men of all parties saw that no vigorous or efficient measures 
were taken to suppress the insurrection; that the Administra 
tion of Buchanan was weak and feeble, when strength and 
power were necessary; and this obvious feebleness, with the 
impression that the Administration was an exponent of the 
constitutional authority, weakened and impaired confidence in 
the ability and strength of the Government itself. It was under 
these circumstances, when strange theories were prevalent, when 
State rights doctrines and strict construction principles were 
perverted and abused, when those who administered the Federal 
Government declared it was destitute of power to maintain its 
supremacy or enforce the laws, that Mr. Lincoln, constitutionally 
elected, but by a majority vote, entered upon his duties as 
Chief Magistrate. A factious and partisan, not a patriotic and 
national spirit, had actuated the Congress which had just ad 
journed without adopting measures to strengthen the hands 
of the Government. The new Administration that was, at the 
commencement of its career, to meet the rebellion which had 
been long maturing, was left by the Thirty-sixth Congress with 
out resources, preparatory measures, or additional authority for 
the crisis. The new President was an untried public man, com 
paratively unknown to his countrymen, and liable to be mis 
represented. Not only the secessionists in the South, but his 
political party opponents in the North, availed themselves of 
these circumstances to create distrust in his abilities and in 
tentions. Many even of those who aided in electing him were 
anxiously waiting and watching, not without some misgiving, 
yet in hopeful confidence that he would fulfil their expecta 
tions; but they were unable to dissipate doubts and refute the 
calumnies against him by any official acts. Neither time nor 

40 Civil War and Reconstruction 

opportunity was given him to demonstrate his capacity and 
fitness, or to make known his intentions, for his oath was not 
registered when he was compelled to act. 

The attention of the whole country had for some time been 
directed toward Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, The 
feeble attempt by the Star of the West a chartered steamer 
to relieve the garrison, made by the Buchanan Administration 
in the winter, had been repelled, and this result was submitted 
to by the Government without effort, and with an understanding 
that reinforcements should not be sent to strengthen Major 
Anderson s command. The State of South Carolina, elated by 
this repulse and submission, demanded that the important for 
tress in her principal harbor should be surrendered to the State. 
The fortress belonged to the United States, had been built at the 
expense of the Federal Treasury, and could not be peaceably sur 
rendered by the Federal Government even to a foreign power, 
much less to persons or State authorities in insurrection. 

In order to excite enmity against the new President, it was 
charged that he designed to make war upon the South, and 
there was a purpose to compel him, in the maintenance of his 
authority, to strike the first hostile blow which was to be the 
justification of the rebels for resistance. None expected the 
Administration to imitate the passive policy which Mr. Buchanan 
had pursued. 

Mr. Lincoln adopted a forbearing and conciliatory course, 
and indulged a hope, longer than most of his friends, that a 
reconciliation could be effected. He persisted in his resolution 
to exhaust all peaceable means, and under no circumstances to 
be aggressive. But the question in relation to Sumter and the 
condition of the garrison was embarrassing. If he sent troops 
and attempted to reinforce Major Anderson, it would be claimed 
on one hand to be a fulfilment of the assertion that he in 
tended to subjugate the South. On the other hand, many of his 
impulsive but inconsiderate supporters demanded that he should 
adopt instant measures to reinforce the garrison the very step 
which his opponents wished him to take. 

On the morning of the 6th of March, 1861, two days after 
the inauguration, the Hon. Joseph Holt, who continued to dis- 

Fort Sumter 41 

charge the duties of Secretary of War, called on me at the Navy 
Department, with the compliments of Lieutenant-General Scott, 
and requested my attendance at the War Department on 
matters of special importance. I went with him immediately 
to the office of the Secretary of War, where were several persons, 
convened, as I soon learned, by order of the President. Among 
them were Generals Scott and Totten and -two or three mem 
bers of the Cabinet. 

General Scott commenced by stating that important des 
patches had been received from Major Anderson in relation to 
the condition of the garrison at Fort Sumter, which the Presi 
dent had directed him to submit to the Secretaries of War and 
Navy. He proceeded to comment on the perilous situation of the 
country, and the difficulties and embarrassments he had ex 
perienced for months; related the measures and precautions he 
had taken for the public safety, the advice and warnings he had 
given to President Buchanan, which, unfortunately, had made 
less impression than the emergency demanded. Other counsels 
than his had prevailed. Instead of meeting the crisis at the com 
mencement, or preparing for the storm which threatened us, 
a passive course had been adopted, and the public mind was 
now greatly inflamed. He had, he said, with the knowledge of 
Secretary Holt, taken the responsibility of organizing and order 
ing a small military force to be present at the inauguration, for 
the protection of the Government, and for the security of the 
archives and public property. This force was, however, insuf 
ficient for the public safety should a conflict take place, and 
he would not conceal from us his apprehensions that one was 
imminent, and perhaps inevitable. 

The despatches from Major Anderson, which were received 
on the 4th of March, contained intelligence of a distressing 
character. They informed the Government that his supplies were 
almost exhausted, and that unless provisions could be received 
within six weeks the garrison would be destitute and must 
evacuate the fort. 

To most of us the information was unexpected and astound 
ing, and there was on the part of such of us as had received no 
previous intimation of the condition of things at Sumter an 

42 Civil War and Reconstruction 

earnest determination that immediate and efficient steps should 
be taken to relieve and reinforce the garrison. General Scott, 
without assenting or dissenting, related the difficulties which 
had already taken place, and stated the formidable obstacles to 
be encountered from the numerous and well-manned batteries, 
some of which the Government had permitted to pass into the 
possession of the secessionists, and others had been erected, the 
Government not preventing, in Charleston harbor. He did not, 
I think, in this first interview, communicate certain memoranda 
of Major Anderson and his officers on the practicability, or 
rather impracticability, of reinforcing the garrison. These were 
submitted, with his own prepared opinion, a few days later. 
He said, however, there was not in his entire command a 
sufficient military force to relieve Major Anderson, nor could 
one be collected and organized within the time limited to 
accomplish that object. If any relief could be extended, it 
must be by the navy. An attempt had been made by water, which 
failed. Commander Ward, a gallant officer, had, he said, tend 
ered his services to join Major Anderson on a former occasion 
when .the subject was considered, and was ready at any time to 
take command of an expedition if one were now ordered. These, 
however, were matters for the naval authorities to decide, but 
it was not expected any definite conclusion would be arrived 
at on this occasion. The subject was of paramount importance, 
deserving of deliberate consideration; at the same time the 
exigencies of the case required prompt decision. It was, he said, 
a satisfaction to him to relieve his mind of overburdened care 
and responsibilities with which it had been loaded for months. 
He especially requested me to consult with some of the dis 
tinguished naval officers who were at the seat of government 
in regard to the practicability of reinforcing the garrison by 

A court-martial was in session at that time in Washington, 
convened for the trial of Captain Armstrong, who had sur 
rendered the Pensacola Navy-yard to the insurgents. On this 
court were some of the most intelligent and experienced officers 
in the service, and I availed myself of the opportunity to obtain 
their views and opinions on this interesting and absorbing ques- 

Fort Sumter 43 

tion. Among others whom I consulted were Rear-Admirals 
Stewart, Gregory, Stringham, and Paulding. Each of them 
thought the relief of the fort practicable, though it would doubt 
less be attended with some sacrifice and loss of life should there 
be resistance. All of them, I think, expressed their readiness to 
undertake the work, except Rear-Admiral Stewart, whose age 
and infirmities precluded him but no one was more earnest 
and decisive in his opinion that it could and should be done 
than that veteran officer. He lamented that he was not forty 
years younger, to render this service, and related an incident 
which he had witnessed in Barcelona, where an English naval 
force passed under the fire of Spanish forts and performed a 
successful achievement. Few of the younger officers were taken 
into confidence and consulted, for the subject was one on which 
publicity was not desirable, and in the general demoralization 
which prevailed it was sometimes difficult to determine who 
were and who were not reliable. Commanders Ward and Jen 
kins were made aware of the proceedings, and both concurred 
with their seniors. The former, who had been summoned to 
Washington, was put in immediate communication with Gen 
eral Scott, who had consulted him under the late Administra 
tion, and had great influence over him. Commodore Stringham, 
whom I had selected as an assistant in matters of detail in the 
Navy Department, had two or three conferences with General 
Scott and Commander Ward in my presence, and it was not 
difficult to perceive that the General had no confidence what 
ever in any successful effort to reinforce Sumter either by land 
or water. In successive Cabinet meetings the subject was fully 
discussed generals Scott and Totten and Commodore String- 
ham being sometimes present. At one of these conferences Gen 
eral Totten read by direction of General Scott an elaborate 
argument or report which had been prepared by these two 
officers in obedience to orders from the President. In this care 
fully-prepared paper they stated the impracticability of relieving 
the garrison should the insurgents resist by force, and that ulti 
mately Sumter must inevitably fall. Some discussion took place 
between them and Commodore Stringham as to the capability 
of naval vessels to encounter or pass batteries which the military 

44 Civil War and Reconstruction 

gentlemen consider impossible, but Commodore Stringham, 
while he did not decisively contradict, did not fully assent to 
their views. Memoranda were submitted from Major Anderson, 
in which all of -the officers under his command united, ex 
pressing his professional opinion that Fort Sumter could not 
be relieved and reinforced with less than twenty thousand good 
and well-disciplined men. These views were fully endorsed by 
the military gentlemen who were consulted, and had great 
influence on the President and Cabinet. 

Mr. Seward from the commencement doubted not only the 
practicability of reinforcing Sumter, but the expediency of any 
attempt to provision the garrison, therein differing from every 
one of his colleagues, though in perfect accord with General 
Scott. The subject in all its aspects was less novel to him than 
the rest of us, and from some cause his conclusions were wholly 
unlike the others. If not indifferent, he had none of the zeal 
which inspired his colleagues, but seemed to consider it an un 
important or settled question. The insurgents had possession of 
Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney, and in fact all the defences of 
Charleston: what benefit, he asked, could we derive from re 
taining this isolated fortress if it were possible to do so? 

Mr. Blair, on -the other hand, who was scarcely less familiar 
with the whole subject than Mr. Seward, was emphatic and 
decisive from first to last in his opinion that Sumter should be 
reinforced at any cost or any sacrifice. He insisted that the time 
had arrived when the Government should assert its power and 
authority, and not pursue the feeble and pusillanimous policy 
of the late Administration, which, by yielding everything, had 
encouraged secession until it had become formidable. There 
was direct antagonism between these two gentlemen one be 
lieving that hostilities could not be avoided, that tampering and 
temporizing had been a great and fatal mistake on the part of 
the Government the other still hopeful that by a conciliatory 
course and skilful management, a peaceful adjustment of dif 
ficulties could be effected. 

The President was greatly disturbed by the intelligence from 
Major Anderson, and the conclusion of the military officers, 
that the garrison could not be reinforced before their supplies 

Fort Sumter 45 

would be exhausted. He did not relinquish the hope that if 
time were given the Administration just entering upon its 
duties, there might be a satisfactory adjustment of impending 
difficulties. In this he was strengthened and encouraged by the 
views and representation of the Secretary of State, who had dur 
ing the winter been in communication with members of the 
Buchanan Administration and leading secessionists. In order 
that the door to conciliation should remain open, the President 
felt it important that the Government should be forbearing, 
not aggressive; and he considered it essential that the Ad 
ministration should not strike the first blow. Yet the fact was 
before us that Sumter must be abandoned if not soon succored, 
and the military experts, whose advice he sought, and by which 
he felt it was his duty to be governed, pronounced it im 

The members of the Cabinet, with the excepion of Messrs. 
Seward and Blair, coincided in the views of the President, and 
like him were embarrassed by the question presented. They 
were united in the opinion that the Federal authority must be 
asserted and maintained, but under the circumstances depre 
cated hasty coercive measures, and, unless it became absolutely 
necessary, were unwilling in view of the military counsels to 
resort to force to provision the fort. 

Commodore Stringham and Commander Ward, after in 
vestigating the subject, ascertaining the number of batteries to 
be encountered and obstacles to be overcome, and listening to 
the arguments of General Scott, united with him in the ex 
pression of their opinion that it would be unadvisable to at 
tempt to relieve Sumter. Commander Ward therefore returned 
on the 12th of March to his duties in Brooklyn. 

Mr. Seward s views and policy had undoubtedly an influence 
on the military and naval gentlemen and on members of the 
Cabinet in forming their conclusions. General Scott deferred 
to him greatly, and had acted in concert with him for months. 
Commander Ward was a favorite with General Scott, and was 
probably governed by him in his final decision in this instance. 

If Mr. Seward supposed the question was disposed of when 
the naval and military gentlemen so advised and all the Cabinet 

46 Civil War and Reconstruction 

but one deferred to it, and when Commander Ward abandoned 
it, he soon learned his mistake; for Mr. Blair on the very day 
that Commander Ward returned to Brooklyn telegraphed to 
Mr. G. V. Fox, who had interested himself in this question 
during the winter, requesting that gentlemen to come to Wash 
ington. This summons Mr. Fox promptly obeyed, and arrived 
in Washington on the evening of the following day, the 13th of 
March. He was immediately introduced by Mr. Blair to the 
President, to whom he made known his plan and his readiness 
to carry it into effcet. 

Mr. Fox was a brother-in-law of Mr. Blair, they having 
married daughters of Mr. Levi Woodbury, formerly Secretary 
of the Navy, afterwards Secretary of the Treasury, and at the 
time of his death one of the Judges of the Supreme Court. 
Although then engaged in manufacturing in Massachusetts, Mr. 
Fox had in early life been an officer of the navy. The preceding 
winter he had volunteered his services to the Buchanan Ad 
ministration to carry supplies to Sumter, but his services were 
then declined. General Scott, who had favored Mr. Fox s proposi 
tion in February, declared it was now an impossibility; but Mr. 
Fox was unwilling to relinquish it without first visiting Sumter. 
To this the President assented, and he left Washington for 
Charleston on the 19th of March. In an interview which he 
had with Major Anderson within the fort, that officer declared 
it was impossible for the navy to obtain ingress to him, and 
that relief could be furnished by no other means than by landing 
an effective army on Morris Island. His views coincided in all 
respects with those of General Scott, and confirmed the position 
of Mr. Seward. But Mr. Fox dissented and adhered to his plan, 
which was in accordance with the policy of Mr. Blair, In several 
consultations with the President, .the Cabinet, General Scott, 
and Commodore Stringham, he developed his plan by which 
the fort could in his belief be provisioned and reinforced wth 
boats by night. He proposed that Commodore Stringham should 
command the naval expedition; but when I suggested this to 
the Commodore, he decided it was to late to be successful, and 
assured Mr. Fox it would jeopard the reputation of any officer 
who should undertake it. 

Fort Sumter 47 

Time was valuable to the Administration, which, had not 
yet gained confidence, which its own Congressional supporters 
distrusted, and in a great crisis had neglected to clothe with any 
extraordinary or discretionary powers. Without means, without 
unity and confidence among those of the different parties who 
opposed secession, the President was slow and deliberate. Some 
of his partisan friends began to denounce his delay as weakness 
and imbecility. 

The supplies in the fort were getting low when Mr. Lamon, 
the former business partner of the President, who had been sent 
as a special and trusty messenger to Major Anderson, after the 
visit and report of Mr. Fox, returned on the 28th of March and 
stated it would be impossible to reinforce the garrison, and 
that the provisions on hand would be exhausted by the 15th of 
April, but a little over two weeks from that date. On receiving 
this information from Lamon, the President declared he would 
send supplies to the garrison, and if the secessionists forcibly 
resisted, on them would be the responsibility of initiating hos 
tilities. This conclusion, though it conflicted in some degree 
with the views of the military gentlemen, he felt to be a political 
necessity. He could not, consistently with his convictions of his 
duty, and with the policy which he had enunciated in his inau 
gural, order the evacuation of Sumter; and it would be inhuman 
on his part to permit the heroic garrison to be starved into a 
surrender without an attempt to relieve it. 

The Secretary of State was the only member of the Cabinet 
who did not cordially concur in these conclusions, and he could 
not successfully controvert them. He did not, however, give his 
earnest approval, but in acquiescing reiterated what he had 
previously urged that the attempt if made would prove a 
failure; that the failure would strengthen the secessionists and 
weaken the Government; that in the attitude of parties it would 
be viewed as the commencement of hostilities; would foreclose 
all measures of conciliation, and place the Administration in 
a wrong and false position. But the President was decided in 
the opinion that whatever might be the military aspect of the 
question, the political necessities and his duty required that 
there should be an attempt at least to reinforce the garrison. 

48 Civil War and Reconstruction 

On the next day, therefore, I received the following com 

EXECUTIVE MANSION, March 29, 1861. 
Honorable Secretary of the Navy. 


I desire that an expedition to move by sea be got ready 
to sail as early as the 6th of April next, the whole according 
to memorandum enclosed; and that you cooperate with the 
Secretary of War for that object. 

Your obedient servant, 



NAVY DEPARTMENT. The Pocahontas at Norfolk, the 
Pawnee at Washington, and revenue cutter Harriet Lane 
at New York, to be ready for sea with one month s stores. 

Three hundred seamen to be ready for leaving the re 
ceiving ship at New York. 

WAR DEPARTMENT. Two hundred men at New York 
ready to leave garrison. 

One year s stores to be put in portable form. 

This communication and memoranda from the President 
were my authority for proceeding to fit out an expedition in 
conjunction with the War Department to reinforce Fort Sumter. 
As the object was to relieve a military garrison, the expedition 
was made a military one, and was under the control and direc 
tion of the War Department. The Secretary of War specially 
commissioned Mr. Fox then a private citizen of Massachusetts, 
but some weeks after the termination of the Sumter expedition 
made Assistant Secretary of the Navy and gave him his written 

The steamer Powhatan, Captain Mercer, which arrived in 
New York while these matters were pending, and had been 
ordered out of commission, was added to the vessels enumerated 
in the memoranda, as her boats and crew were deemed indis 
pensable for landing the supplies. This vessel had just returned 
from a cruise and greatly needed repairs, but she could, it was 

Fort Sumter 49 

believed, be made available for this service to Charleston. I 
therefore sent the following telegram on the 1st of April to the 
commandant of the Brooklyn Navy-yard revoking the order 
by which her officers were detached and she was put out of 

WASHINGTON, D. C., April 1, 1861 
Received at Brooklyn 4:10 P.M. 

To Commodore S. L. BREESE, Navy-yard. 

The Department revokes its orders for the detachment 
of the officers of the Powhatan and the transfer and dis 
charge of her crew. Hold her in readiness for sea service. 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 

After consultation with the Prseident, who was earnest and 
deeply interested in the expedition, I sent the following addi 
tional and -peremptory telegram: 

WASHINGTON D. C., April 1, 1861 
-Received at Brooklyn 6:50 P.M. 

To Commandant of Navy-yard. 

Fit out Powhatan to go to sea at the earliest possible 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 

Great credit is due the late Rear-Admiral Foote, who was 
at that time the executive officer of the Brooklyn Navy-yard, 
for the energy and activity with which he carried these orders 
into effect, and caused the Powhatan, which had been partially 
dismantled, to be fitted for sea within the time limited. 

There were daily interviews between the President and my 
self on this subject, and also with the Secretary of War and the 
Secretary of State. There were also frequent consultations at 
which other members of the Cabinet were present. Mr. Seward 
was not entirely reconciled to the enterprise, and suggested, 
when the President s determination was fixed, that it would 
promote harmony to inform the South Carolina authorities of 
the intention to send supplies peaceably to the garrison, and 

50 Civil War and Reconstruction 

that if not resisted it would not be reinforced. This had been 
the Buchanan policy, but was not consistent with a rightful 
exercise of Federal authority, nor with the idea of a quiet, 
legitimate movement, the object of which was not to be an 
nounced, and to which there should be given no more publicity 
than was absolutely necessary. The right and the duty of the 
Government to furnish supplies to its soldiers in its own fort, 
or to reinforce the command, was undoubted. To inform the 
secessionists of the intended expedition would be impolitic, for 
it would give them time to make preparations to defeat it. 
But Mr. Seward was very persistent, declaring at the same time 
it would be much more advisable to reinforce Pickens than 
Sumter. It was, he claimed, practicable to save Pickens, but 
should there be a conflict it was confessedly impossible to retain 
Sumter. One would be a waste of effort and energy would be 
considered a hostile demonstration, inititating war while the 
other would be a peaceable and effective movement. 

It was admitted that, in the event of a war, there would be 
a necessity to strengthen both positions; but there was no im 
mediate call for additional forces at Pickens, for a large part of 
the home squadron was already off Pensacola. The Brooklyn, 
the Sabine, the St. Louis, and the Wyandotte were on that 
station on the 4th of March, and the Crusader and the Mohawk 
had subsequently been sent to the Gulf by special request of 
Lieutenant-General Scott. There was in addition to these naval 
vessels a military force under Captain Vogdes, which had been 
detained for some time on board the Brooklyn. Instructions 
had, however, gone forward two weeks previously directing the 
troops to be landed in order to reinforce Lieutenant Slemmer, 
who, when Armstrong and Renshaw gave up the navy-yard, had 
refused to surrender, but like Anderson evacuated the fort 
(McRea) in which he was stationed, and took possession of the 
more important fortress of Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, which 
he had strengthened. Reinforced by Vogdes s command, and 
aided and supplied by the squadron, Pickens was in no im 
mediate danger, while the condition of Sumter was imminent. 
The expedition destined to relieve the latter required every 
naval steamer in commission in the Atlantic ports, and might 

Fort Sumter 5! 

then be insufficient. It would leave Norfolk almost defenceless 
should Virginia join the secessionists. Aid to Pickens was not 
therefore further discussed, though the subject was not wholly 

On the 30th of March, the day succeeding my instructions 
from the President, orders were issued to the commandants of 
the Brooklyn, Washington, and Norfolk yards to prepare the 
vessels named for service. Seamen on the receiving ship whom 
the Navy Department had destined for Norfolk were diverted 
to the Sumter expedition, and energy and activity stimulated 
all who in any way were conversant with the subject. 

Whatever arrangements had been made by die retiring Ad 
ministration to abstain from the exercise of Federal authority 
in the seceding States, or whatever understanding may have 
existed between the Buchanan Cabinet and the insurgent lead 
ers, with the knowledge and assent of any one or more persons 
who became members of the Lincoln Administration, are mat 
ters which it is unnecessary to discuss at this time. It has been 
stated by Senator Wilson of Massachusetts that Mr. Stanton, 
while a member of Mr. Buchanan s Cabinet in the winter of 
1861, "put himself in communication with the Republicans in 
Congress and kept them well informed of what was going on 
in the councils of the Administration directly relating to the 
dangers of the country." And Mr. Thurlow Weed has avowed 
and commended "the coalition then formed by Messrs. Seward 
and Stanton." I have no doubt, although I was not aware of 
the fact at the time, that Mr. Stanton communicated "what was 
going on in the councils of the Administration" in the winter 
of 1861, notwithstanding his colleague, Mr. Black, questions 
the truth of Senator Wilson s statement. As to the motives which 
influenced Mr. Stanton and his conferees, whether secessionists 
or Unionists, and of the wisdom and ultimate effect of the 
course pursued and policy adopted by the managing men of all 
parties who coalesced or had an understanding to suspend 
active operations during the last three months of the Buchanan 
Administration, there may be differing opinions. The men who 
instituted the passive or non-coercive policy of the Federal 
Government after South Carolina passed her ordinance of seces- 

52 Civil War and Reconstruction 

sion, may have been actuated by good motives, and yet have 
committed a fatal error. They undoubtedly delayed active hos 
tilities, when prompt, energetic, and well-directed action by the 
National Government might have prevented or crushed in the 
bud the civil war which for four years drenched the land with 
fraternal blood. While the Federal Government had been in 
activepreserving the status doing nothing, under the agree 
ment or undersatnding that was made, the secessionists were 
active in fomenting hostile feelings against the Union, organ 
izing rebellion, seizing forts, erecting batteries, purchasing arms, 
and preparing for the conflict. It is not necessary here to inquire 
who of the managing leaders of the three parties of the coalition 
were victims to the game that was played whether the Adminis 
tration, the secessionists, or the few friends of Mr. Lincoln who 
were in communication with them, were deceived: there was 
an understanding that the Government should be passive dur 
ing the winter of 1861, and it was so; but no injunction or re 
straint was imposed on the insurgents, who were active. Inaction 
on the part of the Federal Government and activity on the part 
of the secessionists was the prevailing policy down to the exodus 
of Mr. Buchanan and the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln on the 
4th of March. Congress had been in session until that period, 
and, amid factious tumult, had witnessed the formidable prep 
arations which were making by the seceding States for a dis 
ruption, without adopting any efficient means to prevent it, 
or even to strengthen the hands of the new Executive. On the 
5th of March Messrs. John Forsyth, Martin J. Crawford, and 
A. B. Roman, purporting to be commissioners "duly accredited 
by the Government of the Confederate States of America as 
commissioners to the Government of the United States/ ap 
peared in Washington, and on the llth asked, through a dis 
tinguished Senator, an unofficial interview with the Secretary 
of State. This request was "respectfully declined"; and on the 
same day they addressed him a written communication, which 
was received at the State Department on the 13th, stating that 
"seven States of the late Federal Union having, in the exercise 
of the inherent right of every free people to change or reform 
their political institutions, and through conventions of their 

Fort Sumter 53 

people, withdrawn from the United States and reassumed the 
attributes of sovereign power delegated to it, have formed a 
government of their own." They proceeded to say that a speedy 
adjustment of all questions, etc., and asked an early day to 
present their credentials to the President of the United States. 
An answer dated the 15th of March was, it is stated in a post 
script, by consent of parties, not delivered until the 8th of 
April. Personal understanding commenced under Buchanan ap 
pears to have been continued into the administration of Lincoln. 
The memoranda when delivered declined to comply with the 
request of "the commissioners," and informed them the Secre 
tary of State "has no authority nor is he at liberty to recognize 
them as diplomatic agents or hold correspondence or other 
communication with them." In the interim, however, between 
the 13th of March and the 8th of April, communication, it has 
been admitted, was had by the Secretary of State with the 
commissioners through the Hon. John A. Campbell, then an 
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, in 
the presence of Judge Nelson of New York, also one of the 
Judges of the Supreme Court. The memoranda of Mr. Seward, 
delivered on the 8th of April, called out an answer on the fol 
lowing day the 9th of April from the commissioners, who 
state: "In the postscript to your (the Secretary of State s) memo 
randum you say it was delayed, as was understood, with their 
(Messrs, Forsyth and Crawford s) assent. This is true; but it is 
also true that on the 15th of March Messrs. Forsyth and Craw 
ford were assured by a person occupying a high official position 
in the Government, and who, as they believed, was speaking 
by authority, that Fort Sumter would be evacuated within a 
very few days. . . . On the first of April we were again informed 
that there might be an attempt to supply Fort Sumter with pro 
visions, but that Governor Pickens should have previous notice 
of the attempt. There was no suggestion of reinforcements." 

The following is part of a published letter of Judge Camp 
bell to the Secretary of State, dated April 13, 1861, relative to 
these negotiations or communications between the Secretary of 
State and the insurgents: 

54 Civil War and Reconstruction 

WASHINGTON CITY, April 13, 1861. 


On the 15th of March ultimo, I left with Judge Craw 
ford, one of the commissioners o the Confederate States, 
a note in writing to the effect following: 

"I feel entire confidence that Fort Sumter will be evac 
uated in the next five days. And this measure is felt as 
imposing great responsibility on the Administration. 

"I feel entire confidence that no measure changing the 
existing status prejudicially to the Southern Confederate 
States is at present contemplated. 

"I feel an entire confidence that an immediate demand 
for an answer to the communication of the commissioners 
will be productive of evil and not of good. I do not believe 
that it ought at this time be pressed." 

The substance of this statement I communicated to you 
the same evening by letter. Five days elapsed, and I called 
with a telegram from General Beauregard to the effect that 
Sumter was not evacuated, but that Major Anderson was 
at work making repairs. 

The next day, after conversing with you, I communi 
cated to Judge Crawford in writing that the failure to 
evacuate Sumter was not the result of bad faith, but was 
attributable to causes consistent with the intention to fulfil 
the engagement, and that as regarded Pickens I should 
have notice of any design to alter the existing status there. 
Mr. Justice Nelson was present at these conversations, three 
in number, and I submitted to him each of my written 
communications to Judge Crawford, and informed Judge 
C. that they had his (Judge Nelson s) sanction. I gave you 
on the 22d of March a substantial copy of the statement I 
had made on the 15th. 

The 30th of March arrived, and at that time a telegram 
came from Governor Pickens inquiring concerning Colonel 
Lamon, whose visit to Charleston he supposed had a con 
nection with the proposed evacuation of Fort Sumter. I 
left that with you, and was to have an answer the following 
Monday (1st of April). On the 1st of April I received from 
you the statement in writing: "I am satisfied the Govern 
ment will not undertake to supply Fort Sumter without 
giving notice to Governor Pickens." The words "I am 

Fort Sumter 55 

satisfied" were for me to use as expressive of confidence in 
the remainder of the declaration. 

The proposition as originally prepared was, "The Presi 
dent may desire to supply Sumter, but will not do so, etc.; 
and your verbal explanation was that you did not believe 
any such attempt would be made, and that there was no 
design to reinforce Sumter. 

There was a departure here from the pledges of the 
previous month, but with the verbal explanation I did not 
consider it a matter then to complain of. I simply stated 
to you that I had that assurance previously. 

On the 7th of April, I addressed you a letter on the sub 
ject of the alarm that the preparations by the Government 
had created, and asked you if the assurances I had given 
were well or ill-founded. In respect to Sumter your reply 
was, "Faith as to Sumter fully keptwait and see." In the 
morning s paper I read, "An authorized messenger from 
President Lincoln informed Governor Pickens and General 
Beauregard that provisions will be sent to Fort Sumter 
peaceably or otherwise by force" This was the 8th of April 
at Charleston, the day following your last assurance, and 
is the evidence of the full faith I was invited to wait for 
and see. 

Very respectfully, 


Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, U. S. 
Hon. WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State. 

If any such pledge as indicated in this correspondence was 
given, or any understanding was had I was not aware of it, nor 
do I think it was known at the time to other members of the 
Administration. My orders were given, and my acts also were 
in perfect sincerity and good faith, and with the hope that 
Major Anderson and the garrison in Sumter would be relieved. 
A knowledge of the facts set forth in the foregoing correspond 
ence, is essential to a correct understanding of the proceedings 
and circumstances attending the expedition to Sumter. 

Late in the afternoon of the 1st of April, while at my dinner 
at Willard s, where I then boarded, Mr. Nicolay, the private 

56 Civil War and Reconstruction 

secretary of the President, brought me a large package from the 
President. I immediately broke the envelope, and found it con 
tained several papers of importance, some of which were of a 
singular character, being in the nature of instructions or orders 
from the Executive relative to naval matters of which I knew the 
President was not informed, and about which I had not been 
consulted. One of these papers relating to the government of 
the Navy Department was more singular and extraordinary than 
either of the others, and was as follows: 


EXECUTIVE MANSION, April 1, 1861. 
To the Secretary of the Navy. 


You will issue instructions to Captain Pendergrast, com 
manding the home squadron, to remain in observation at 
Vera Cruz important complications in our foreign rela 
tions rendering the presence of an officer of rank there of 
great importance. 

Captain Stringham will be directed to proceed to Pensa- 
cola with all possible despatch, and assume command of that 
portion of the home squadron stationed off Pensacola. He 
will have confidential instructions to cooperate in every 
way with the commanders of the land forces of the United 
States in that neighborhood. 

The instructions to the army officers, which are strictly 
confidential, will be communicated to Captain Stringham 
after he arrives at Pensacola. 

Captain Samuel Barron will relieve Captain Stringham 
in charge of the Bureau of Detail. 


P. S. As it is very necessary at this time to have a per 
fect knowledge of the personal (sic!)* of the navy, and to be 
able to detail such officers for special purposes as the exigen 
cies of the service may require, I request that you will in 
struct Captain Barron to proceed and organize the Bureau of 
Detail in the manner best adapted to meet the wants of the 
navy, taking cognizance of the discipline of the navy gen- 

* The misspelling of personnel was not Lincoln s. See below. 

Fort Sumter 57 

erally, detailing all officers for duty, taking charge of the 
recruiting of seamen, supervising charges made against 
officers, and all matters relating to duties which must be 
best understood by a sea officer. You will please afford 
Captain Barron any facility for accomplishing this duty, 
transferring to his department the clerical force heretofore 
used for the purposes specified. It is to be understood Chat 
this officer will act by authority of the Secretary of the 
Navy, who will exercise such supervision as he may deem 


On reading this extraordinary letter and more extraordinary 
postscript, I went without a moment s delay to the President 
with the package in my hand. He was alone in his office writ 
ing, and raising his head as I entered he inquired, "What have 
I done wrong?" I replied that I had received with surprise the 
package containing, among other things, his instructions re 
specting the navy and die Navy Department, and I called for 
an explanation. I then read the foregoing document, the body 
of which was in the handwriting of Captain Montogomery C. 
Meigs of the army, the postscript in that of Lieutenant D. D. 
Porter of the navy. The President expressed as much surprise 
as I felt that he had signed and sent me such a document. 

He said Mr. Seward with two or three young men had been 
there through the day, on a matter which Mr. Seward had much 
at heart; that he had yielded to the project of Mr. Seward, but 
as it involved considerable detail and he had his hands full, 
and more too, he had left Mr. Seward to prepare the necessary 
papers. These papers he had signed, some of them without 
reading, trusting entirely to Mr. Seward, for he could not under 
take to read all papers presented to him; and if he could not 
trust the Secretary of State, whom could he rely upon in a 
public matter that concerned us all? He seemed disinclined to 
disclose or dwell on the project, but assured me he never would 
have signed that paper had he been aware of its contents, much 
of which had no connection with Mr. Seward s scheme. I asked 
who were associated with the Secretary of State. "No one," said 
the President, "but he had these young men here as clerks to 

58 Civil War and Reconstruction 

write down his plans and orders/ Most of the work, he said, 
was done in the other room. When I inquired if he knew the 
young men, he replied, "One was Captain Meigs; another was 
a companion with whom he seemed intimate, a naval officer 
named Porter." 

Without further inquiry I informed the President that I had 
no confidence in the fidelity of Captain Barron, who was by this 
singular order, issued in his name, to be forced into official and 
personal intimacy with me, and virtually to take charge of the 
Navy Department. He said he knew nothing of Barron, though 
he had a genreal recollection that there was such an officer in 
the navy, and believed he had seen him in Washington. I called 
his attention to the order, if I was so to consider it, to organize 
a Bureau of Detail in the Navy Department, and to transfer to 
a naval officer a portion of the clerical force and civil adminis 
trative duties which by law belonged to the Secretary of the 
Navy duties which the Secretary had no right to evade and no 
legal authority to depute to another. The bureaus of the De 
partment, he was doubtless aware, were established by law and 
not by an executive order. That this proposition to make a 
naval officer Secretary de facto, to transfer him from his pro 
fessional to civil duties without responsibility, was illegal, and 
in my view monstrous. It conflicted with the whole theory of 
our Government and the principles on which the Navy Depart 
ment was organized and established. The Senate was entitled to 
a voice in the appointment of chiefs of bureaus. The selection 
of a trusted officer by the Secretary for advisory and confidential 
purposes was a different matter. I might, as I had, call an ex 
perienced officer to my assistance, with whom I could consult 
and advise in regard to the personnel of the navy, which was 
greatly demoralized, and to assist me in detailing officers of 
fidelity and patriotism; but Barron was one of the last men I 
could trust in this emergency with these matters of detail and 
departmental business. Neither the President nor Secretary had 
power to create a new bureau or to bring a professional naval 
officer into the Department, and devolve on him the functions 
which the law imposed on the Secretary. Such detailing and 
consulting officer as Commodore Stringham, whom I had called 

Fort Sumter 59 

to my side in this great emergency, ought to have the implicit 
confidence of the Secretary, should be subordinate to him and 
be selected by him. To all of which the President assented most 
fully. I then went on to say that Captain Barron was an ac 
complished officer and gentleman with whom I had personally 
pleasant relations, but that his feelings, sympathies, and asso 
ciations were notoriously with the secessionists; that he was 
prominent in a clique of naval exclusives, most of whom were 
tainted with secession; that I was not prepared to say he would 
desert in the crisis which seemed approaching, but I had my 
apprehensions that such would be the case; that while I should 
treat him courteously and with friendly consideration, and 
hoped most sincerely he would not prove false, I could not con 
sent he should have the position nor give him the trust which 
his instructions imposed. 

The President reiterated they were not his instructions, and 
wished me distinctly to understand they were not, though his 
name was appended to them said the paper was an improper 
one that he wished me to give it no more consideration than 
I thought proper treat it as cancelled, as if it had never been 
written. He remembered, he said, that both Mr. Seward and 
Porter had something to say about Barron as superior to almost 
any officer in the naval service, but whatever his qualifications, 
he would never knowingly have assigned him or any other man 
to the position named in the Navy Department without first 
consulting me. There was at that time a clique of prominent 
naval officers, as there has been on more than one occasion, 
anxious to take possession of and control the Navy Department. 
Many of them were in Washington, and most of them were 
inclined to secession, of whom Barron was perhaps chief. As 
suming to be the elite of the navy, they were intimate with and 
favorites of the secession leaders, and belonged to and moved in 
their social and political circle. Some of them had resigned be 
fore the change of administration; some, it was understood, 
would throw up their commissions whenever the organized au 
thorities of their States came in conflict with the Federal Govern 
ment; there were others of this court clique who hesitated to 
abandon the service, but sought orders which would place them 

60 Civil War and Reconstruction 

remote from the threatened conflict. Barron, conspicuous as 
a courtier, was the agent who had negotiated and -perfected the 
agreement between Messrs. Holt and Taucey, of Buchanan s 
Cabinet, and Messrs. Mallory and Colonel Chase on the part of 
the secessionists, by which the Government was not to reinforce 
Fort Pickens unless it should be attacked. He was a cunning and 
skilful manager, possessed of considerable diplomatic talents, 
and was deep in all the secession intrigues in Washington at that 
period. A few weeks after this attempt to thrust him into the 
Department, the greater portion of this clique of exclusives sent 
in their resignations, deserted the flag, and were dismissed the 
service. Barron, foremost among them, was placed by the rebels 
in Richmond in command of Fort Hatteras, and on the 29th 
of August following was captured by Commodore Stringham, 
the officer whom, by the strange proceedings and surreptitious 
orders of the 1st of April, he was to have superseded. If I mis 
take not, this officer, who, by the order which President Lincoln 
unwittingly signed, was to have had almost absolute control of 
the Navy Department, and to have been made acquainted with 
all its operations, was the first of the naval officers that deserted 
who was made prisoner. It is sufficient here to state that the 
extraordinary document of the 1st of April was treated as a 
nullity. Barron, who took rank as captain in the Confederate 
naval service from the 26th of March, five days before this 
executive order to create a new bureau and establish him as 
regent of the Navy Department was "extracted" from the Presi 
dent, was not assigned to duty in the Department, as the in 
structions directed. Pendergrast did not go to Vera Cruz nor 
Stringham to Pensacola. 

When I inquired the object of detaching Commodore String- 
ham from duty in the Department where I had placed him, the 
President said he had no reason to give, and in regard to issuing 
instructions to Commodore Pendergrast he was equally ignorant. 
He knew no cause for either. There was, however, a manifest 
purpose in some quarter to get rid of the presence of these ex 
perienced and trusted officers, and also to get Barron into a 
responsible position. I stated to him that the expedition to 
Sumter, which we were actively fitting out, would leave us not 

Fort Sumter 61 

a vessel in commission east of Cape Hatteras, except the Cumber 
land, the flag-ship of Commodore Pendegrast, which vessel I had 
ordered to Norfolk on the 29th of March, the day that I had 
received his instructions to send the Pocahontas, then at that 
navy-yard, on this expedition. I protested against sending the 
Cumberland away at this juncture. She could, I assured him, 
render better service to the country in the waters of Virginia in 
this period of uncertainty and danger than at Vera Cruz, and 
it seemed to me proper she should be detained at Norfolk, 
where Commodore Pendergrast could advise with Commodore 
McCauley, who was in command of the station, and be prepared 
with a full and efficient crew to render him assistance if neces 
sary. The President concurred with me unqualifiedly, depre 
cated the interference which had been made in naval affairs, 
and said the idea of sending the Cumberland away was not his. 
In directing me, without previous consultation or notice, to 
detach and send off Commodore Stringham, I confessed to the 
President I felt annoyed. The Commodore I knew to be true and 
reliable, and had called him to confidential duties on that 
account, but he had expressed to me his preference for service 
afloat, especially if there should be active duty. I was giving 
the subject consideration, and could not object to it, unless 
he had been instrumental in procuring this executive order by 
indirect management, which was wholly unlike him. The Presi 
dent was confident, and I became satisfied on inquiry that 
Commodore Stringham had no part in the matter; but there 
had been an improper movement, I will not say intrigue, in 
some quarter to set him, who had my confidence, aside for 
Barron, who had not. It is not necessary to probe these strange 
proceedings further. I state the facts. The President wholly dis 
avowed and disapproved them; they were not consummated, 
and never from that day to the close of his life was there any 
similar interference with the administration of the Navy De 
partment, nor was any step concerning it taken without first 
consulting me. 

For a day or two after these proceedings of the 1st of April 
there was a delay in issuing final orders for the Sumter expedi 
tion. The President continued to hesitate or met opposition. 

62 Civil War and Reconstruction 

It was still persistently urged that the authorities at Charleston 
should be notified of the President s intention to send supplies 
to the garrison, a measure which was opposed as likely to defeat 
the purpose of the expedition. Mr. Fox, who was to be in com 
mand, had, under orders of the President, gone to New York 
on the 30th of March, to make necessary preparations; but not 
receiving expected instructions, which the discussion in the 
Cabinet delayed, he returned to Washington on the 3d of April. 
Only twelve days then remained until the supplies in Sumter 
would be exhausted. Further postponement would defeat the 
object of the expedition. The result was a compromise. The 
President decided he would send a messenger to Charleston 
when the expedition sailed, but not before, to notify Governor 
Pickens of the fact, and that the object was peaceful, and that 
no force would be used unless the attempt to provision the 
garrison was resisted. 

Immediately on this final decision the following orders were 
prepared and issued by the Secretaries of War and Navy. My 
instructions to Captain Mercer, in command of the Powhatan, 
were submitted by myself personally to the President, and by 
him were carefully scrutinized and approved: 

Captain G. V. Fox, Washington, D. C. 


It having been decided to succor Fort Sumter, you have 
been selected for this important duty. Accordingly, you 
will take charge of the transports in New York, having the 
troops and supplies on board, to the entrance of Charleston 
harbor; and endeavor, in the first instance, to deliver the 
subsistence. If you are opposed in this, you are directed to 
report the fact to the senior naval officer of the harbor, who 
will be instructed by the Secretary of the Navy to use his 
entire force to open a passage, when you will if possible 
effect an entrance and place both the troops and supplies 
in Fort Sumter. 

I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant, 

SIMON CAMERON, Secretary of War. 

Fort Sumter 63 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, April 5,1861. 


Commanding U. S. steamer Powhatan, N. Y. 

The United States steamers Powhatan, Pawnee, Poca 
hontas, and Harriet Lane will compose a naval force under 
your command, to be sent to the vicinity of Charleston, 
S. C., for the purpose of aiding in carrying out the objects 
of an expedition of which the War Department has charge. 

The primary object of the expedition is to provision 
Fort Sumter, for which purpose the War Department will 
furnish the necessary transports. Should the authorities of 
Charleston permit the fort to be supplied, no further par 
ticular service will be required of the force under your com 
mand; and after being satisfied that supplies have been 
received at the fort, the Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Harriet 
Lane will return to new York, and the Pawnee to Wash 

Should the authorities at Charleston, however, refuse to 
permit, or attempt to prevent the vessel or vessels having 
supplies on board from entering the harbor, or from peace 
ably proceeding to Fort Sumter, you will protect the trans 
ports or boats of the expedition in the object of their 
mission, disposing of your force in such manner as to open 
the way for their ingress, and afford as far as practicable 
security to the men and boats, and repelling if necessary 
all obstructions toward provisioning the fort and reinforc 
ing it; for in case of a resistance to the peaceable primary 
object of the expedition, a reinforcement of the garrison 
will also be attempted. These purposes will be under the 
supervision of the War Department, which has charge of 
the expedition. The expedition has been intrusted to Cap 
tain G. V. Fox, with whom you will put yourself in com 
munication, and cooperate with him to accomplish and 
carry into effect its object. 

You will leave New York with the Powhatan in time to 
be off Charleston bar, ten miles distant from and due east 
of the light-house, on the morning of the llth instant, there 
to await the arrival of the transport or transports with 
troops and stores. The Pawnee and Pocahontas will be 

64 Civil War and Reconstruction 

ordered to join you there at the time mentioned, and also 
the Harriet Lane, which latter vessel has been placed under 
the control of this Department for this service. 

On the termination of the expedition, whether it be 
peaceable or otherwise, the several vessels under your com 
mand will return to the respective ports, as above directed, 
unless some unforseen circumstance should prevent. 
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, April 5, 1861. 
Commander S. C. ROWAN, 
Commanding U. S. steamer Pawnee, Norfolk, Va. 


After the Pawnee shall have been provisioned at Norfolk 
you will proceed with her to sea, and on the morning of the 
llth instant appear off Charleston bar, ten miles distant 
from and due east of the light-house, where you will report 
to Captain Samuel Mercer, of the Powhatan, for special 
service. Should he not be there you will await his arrival. 
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 

Sealed instructions similar to those issued to Commander 
Rowan were sent to Commander Gillis, of the Pocahontas, and 
to Captain Faunce, of the revenue cutter Harriet Lane, which 
vessel had been transferred for the occasion by the Secretary 
of the Treasury to the Navy Department. 

I also learned that the President had himself sent the fol 
lowing telegram to the commandant of the Brooklyn Navy-yard 
on the 1st of April in relation to the Powhatan, corresponding 
with mine of that date, and received at the same moment with 
it. This, it will be observed, was on the 1st of April, when he 
was signing papers, many, as he said, without reading, and some 
hours before my interview with him concerning the papers 
brought me by Mr. Nicolay. The telegram was probably pre 
pared for his signature and signed by him under the arrange 
ment of Mr. Seward and his associates, who had entirely dif- 

Fort Sumter 65 

ferent objects in view from the legitimate one of the War and 
Navy Departments. 

WASHINGTON, D. C., April 1, 1861 
Received at Brooklyn 6:50 P.M. 

To the Commandant of the Navy-yard. 

Fit out the Powhatan to go to sea at the earliest possible 
moment. Orders by a confidential messenger go forward 


The time specified for the squadron to rendezvous off 
Charleston light was brief, but the emphatic preparatory orders 
enabled us to get them off with unprecedented despatch. I 
congratulated myself on the energy and activity with which this 
work had been accomplished, and was prepared to await re 
sults, when Mr. Seward and his son Frederick called at Willard s 
about eleven o clock at night on the 6th of April with a tele 
gram from Meigs and Porter at New York, the purport of which 
was, that there was difficulty in completing arrangements, in 
consequence of conflicting orders from the Secretary of the 
Navy. I asked an explanation, for I knew of no movement with 
which my orders conflicted. Mr. Seward said he supposed the 
telegram related to some difficulty about Lieutenant Porter s 
taking command of the Powhatan. I insisted this must be a 
mistake, that Captain Mercer was in command of the Powhatan; 
that she was as he knew the flagship of the Sumter expedition,, 
and had, I presumed, left that evening for her destination; that 
Lieutenant Porter had no orders to join that expedition; that 
he had sought and was under orders for the Pacific on coast 
survey service, and I supposed had left for that duty; that he 
was not from his rank entitled to any such command as the 
Powhatan, and I knew not what business he had in New York 
interfering with the measures of the Department, and embar 
rassing his superior officer, Captain Mercer, in the performance 
of his duty. Mr. Seward said there was some mistake, some 
misunderstanding; that Lieutenant Porter had been sent to 
New York under special orders from the President, of which 

66 Civil War and Reconstruction 

I had probably not been informed. I questioned whether the 
President would detach and send away an officer without at 
least informing the Department, certainly not to take command 
of a ship that was in commission; that such irregular proceedings 
would throw the departments and government into confusion, 
and were wholly inconsistent with correct and systematic ad 
ministration. There were, it seemed, naval orders issued with 
out the knowldege af the head of the Navy Department, or of 
any one connected with it. He suggested that perhaps Com 
modore Stringham had some facts. Barron was, by the instruc 
tions of the 1st of April, which Mr. Seward and his friends had 
prepared, to have been then in Stringham s place. I at once 
sent for Commodore Stringham, who had retired for the night. 
On his appearance he disclaimed all knowledge of this extra 
ordinary proceeding. 

Mr. Seward, without making any disclosure of the object 
in which Meigs and Porter were engaged, declared it was a 
measure of the President s. Late as it was, I insisted it was 
indispensable that we should have an immediate interview with 
him in order to prevent the failure of the Sumter expedition, 
as well as to have a right understanding of what the Govern 
ment was about, and to clear up any clashing of orders. We 
accordingly repaired to the executive mansion, Commodore 
Stringham and Mr. Frederick Seward accompanying us. On our 
way thither, Mr. Seward remarked to me that, old as he was, 
he had learned a lesson from this experience, which was that 
he had better attend to his own business, not interfere with 
others, and confine his labors to his proper Department. To 
all of which I assented. 

The President, who had not retired, although it was nearly 
midnight, was astonished and perplexed in regard to the state 
ments which we made. He looked first at one and then at the 
other; read and re-read the telegram, and asked if I was not in 
error in regard to the flag-ship. I assured him I was not, and 
reminded him that I had read to him my orders to Captain 
Mercer on the day they were written, and they had met his 
approval. He recollected that circumstance, but not the name 
of the officer or the vessel said he had become confused with 

Fort Sumtcr 67 

the names of Pocahontas and Powhatan. Commodore Stringham, 
to whom I had communicated the instructions, confirmed my 
statement; but to satisfy the President beyond peradventure, 1 
went to the Department, although it was past midnight, and 
procured the press copy. On reading it, he distinctly recollected 
all the facts, and turning promptly to Mr. Seward said the 
Powhatan must be restored to Mercer; that he had never sup 
posed he was interfering with the Sumter expedition; that on 
no consideration should it be defeated or rendered abortive. 
Mr. Seward thought it was now too late to correct the mistake; 
said he considered the other project the most important, and 
asked whether that would not be injured if the Powhatan was 
now withdrawn. The President would not discuss the subject, 
but was peremptory said there was not the pressing necessity 
in the other case, which I learned was an enterprise for Pickens. 
As regarded Sumter, however, not a day was to be lost that the 
orders of the Secretary of the Navy must be carried out, and he 
directed Mr. Seward to telegraph to that effect to New York 
without a moment s delay. Mr. Seward thought it might be 
difficult to get a telegram through, it was so late; but the 
President was imperative. 

I learned from the President then, and more fully thereafter, 
that Mr. Seward, after the final decision to relieve Sumter, had 
been more solicitous and importunate than ever to send re 
inforcements to Pickens; that this had been the great object in 
view on the 1st of April, when those strange orders had been 
issued which he had incautiously signed; that it was considered 
important the Pickens movement should be secret none of the 
Cabinet even had been advised of it. Mr. Seward had under 
taken to get up that enterprise and give the necessary military 
and naval orders without consulting the War and Navy De 
partments. With this view, and to possess himself of techni 
calities, he had selected Captain Meigs, of the army, and 
Lieutenant Porter, of the navy, as his assistants and agents, and 
by the aid of these subordinate officers the Secretary of State 
had fitted out a combined military and naval expedition. 
Captain Meigs says, in a letter which he has published, "Mr. 
Seward carried me to the President, merely saying that he 

68 Civil War and Reconstruction 

thought the President ought to see some of the younger officers, 
and not consult only with men who, if the war broke out, could 
not mount a horse," alluding to General Scott, whose age and 
infirmities precluded him from active duties. When I questioned 
whether the officers of either service would obey the orders of 
the Secretary of State, the President said Mr. Seward had pro 
vided for that by persuading him to sign or countersign the 
orders. Such a practice, I stated, would lead to confusion in the 
Government. The head of each department was responsible for 
its own expenditures, and must know the status and acts of its 
own subordinates. If the Secretary of the Navy should need the 
immediate service of Lieutenant Porter, and were to send him 
orders demanding instant execution, and he could not be found, 
but was absent by the secret interference of the Secretary of 
State, or any other Secretary, without leave or knowledge of the 
Department, great embarrassment and confusion must follow. 
So in regard to Captain Meigs and others of the army. We had, 
moreover, a record in the Navy Department of every naval vessel, 
and of the service on which each ship in commission was de 
tailed. By our record the Powhatan, under command of Captain 
Mercer, had gone to Charleston, and was thence to return. But 
this official record was not a true one. The vessel was lost to us. 
We knew nothing of her whereabouts, except what I inci 
dentally learned through the Secretary of State. He was not 
responsible for the funds of either the Navy or War Depart 
ments, yet he had taken upon himself a large expenditure from 
each, and had issued naval and military orders without the 
knowledge of the heads of those departments. In doing this he 
had committed something more than a discourtesy towards his 
associates in the Cabinet. It was an assumption and exercise of 
authority that did not legitimately belong to him. The Secretary 
of State had cuddled with subordinates of other departments, 
and had I thought unfortunately, induced the President to 
sanction these strange proceedings by his signature. 

The President never attempted to justify or excuse these 
transactions; always spoke of the doings of that 1st of April as 
unfortunate; said that we were all new in the administration; 

Fort Sumter 69 

that he permitted himself, with the best intentions, to be drawn 
into an impropriety without sufficient examination and reflec 
tion, but he was confident no similar error would again occur. 

It has been said that the detachment of the Powhatan from 
the Sumter expedition was a deliberate contrivance to defeat 
it, by secretly withdrawing the flag-ship, without which success 
was impracticable if there was resistance to sending in supplies. 
The published correspondence of the rebel Commissioners and 
of Judge Campbell is cited as corroborating this assumption 
that the Powhatan was purposely detached in order to compel 
evacuation, and enable the Secretary of State to preserve "faith 
as regards Sumter" with the rebel leaders. A comparison of 
dates in that correspondence, when pledges and assurances are 
alleged to have been given, with the proceedings and consulta 
tions of the Administration in cabinet from time to time in the 
months of March and April, goes far to verify the charge that 
there was an understanding between certain parties which made 
it necessary to defeat the Sumter expedition by detaching the 
flag-ship after all other measures to prevent relief had failed. 
It is not necessary here to inquire whether the Confederate Com 
missioners appeared in Washington on the day after the inau 
guration by any preconcert, or whether they delayed visiting 
Washington until the expiration of Mr. Buchanan s term pur 
suant to arrangement or previous understanding of which the 
new Administration was ignorant. 

The Hon. Montgomery Blair, in a speech of much historical 
interest, delivered by him at Clarksville, in Maryland, in August, 
1865, declares that "Mr. Seward acted in concert with the 
Buchanan Administration during the last three months of its 
term. He was no doubt advised through Mr. Stanton, who was 
in Buchanan s Cabinet, of the policy it had adopted in refer 
ence to the seizure of everything that appertained to the nation 
in the South. It was owing to the coalition then formed between 
Mr. Seward and Mr. Stanton that the latter became Secretary 
of War to Mr. Lincoln. He apprised Mr. Seward of this treaty 
of the War and Navy Departments under Buchanan to make 
no resistance to the policy of dissolving the Union to offer no 

7Q Civil War and Reconstruction 

coercion to impede its march to independence; and Mr. Se- 
ward s course showed that he approved and adopted that 


Mr. Blair, on the authority of Judge Campbell, charges Mr. 
Seward with giving a pledge to evacuate Fort Sumter; and Mr. 
Thurlow Weed, die intimate friend, companion, oracle, and 
organ of Mr. Seward, in some semi-official remarks on the rebel 
correspondence, justified the coalition, and says: "That Gov 
ernor Seward conversed freely with Judge Campbell we do not 
deny, nor do we doubt that in these conversations, at one period, 
he intimated that Fort Sumter would be evacuated. He certainly 
believed so, founding his opinion upon a knowledge of General 
Scott s recommendation/ 

The assurance claimed to have been given on the 15th of 
March, that Sumter would be evacuated, it will be noted, was 
immediately after Commander Ward had abandoned the idea 
of relieving the garrison, and after Gen. Scott pronounced Mr. 
Fox s plan which was feasible in February-now impracticable. 
It was repeated with a qualification on the 1st of April, the 
day on which orders were "extracted" from the President con 
ferring on Meigs and Porter unlimited authority, and placing 
all the naval vessels at their disposal. It was reaffirmed on the 
7th of April, the day after the Powhatan had sailed for Pickens. 
instead of Sumter. The notification to Governor Pickens that 
supplies would be sent, which was officially communicated to 
him on the 8th, as soon as the squadron sailed; the secret and 
mysterious detachment of the flag-ship without the knowledge 
of the Secretary of the Navy or any one connected with the 
Navy Department or with the Sumter expedition, which the 
author of the proposition must have known would render the 
expedition abortive and the evacuation of the fort inevitable,, 
have 5 all of them the appearance of one persistent and connected 
purposewhether in fulfilment of any pledge or understanding, 
is a point I shall not here discuss. They were matters of which 
I was at the time of their occurrence wholly uninformed, and 
when I learned them I could not, with a proper regard for the 
public service in that period of difficulty, have exposed them. 

Fort Sumter 71 

I therefore submitted to be blamed, while those who secretly 
brought them about escaped responsibility and censure. 

There was certainly no necessity for taking from Captain 
Mercer his vessel and sending her to Pensacola, where most of 
the naval force of the home squadron was collected. She was, 
however, absolutely indispensable to the success of the Sumter 
expedition. Yet General Meigs says, in his published letter, "An 
order was extracted (from the President) on the recommendation 
of Secretary Seward, detaching the Powhatan from the Sumter 
expedition and sending her to Fort Pickens." 

By this "extracted" order she was withdrawn from duties 
where her presence was all-essential, and sent to the Gulf, where 
she was not required. The ostensible object of this military and 
naval enterprise to Pickens, undertaken by the Secretary of 
State without the knowledge of the Secretary of War or the 
Secretary of the Navy, was the importance of strengthening that 
fortress; but the Secretary of State well knew that measures had 
already been taken to reinforce that post. The troops on the 
Brooklyn, lying off Pensacola, and destined to strengthen the 
garrison, which had been detained on board since January, in 
accordance with the agreement or understanding between 
Messrs. Holt and Toucey and some of the rebel leaders, had 
been ordered to disembark. As early as the 12th of March I had 
sent the Crusader, with orders from General Scott to Captain 
Vodges to land his command and assist Slemmer in defending 
Pickens. This order from the Lieutenant-General the senior 
naval officer on the station, Captain Adams, would not recog 
nize, nor permit to be executed, in consequence of the agree 
ment of the previous winter, that the Government would not 
reinforce its own garrison provided the insurgents would not 
attack it. Doubting, however, the correctness of his position, 
he sent Lieutenant Gwathmey, a special messenger, overland to 
Washington, stating his embarrassment, and asking of me 
specific orders. This messenger reached Washington on the 6th 
of April, and I that evening sent Lieutenant Worden, of sub 
sequent Monitor fame, with a brief but explicit order to Captain 
Adams to land the troops. This was on the very evening, and 

72 Civil War and Reconstruction 

but a few hours before Mr. Seward, with his son, called on me 
with the telegram from Meigs and Porter in regard to the 
Powhatan. My order Lieutenant Worden committed to memory 
between Washington and Richmond, and then destroyed the 
writing, lest he should be arrested and searched. Travelling 
day and night, he reached Pensacola on the 12th of April, and 
the troops were disembarked and Pickens reinforced on the 
evening of the day that fire was opened on Sumter, and while 
that fort was being bombarded. The Powhatan, under command 
of Lieutenant Porter, which had been withdrawn from the Sum 
ter expedition ostensibly to relieve Pickens, did not arrive off 
Pensacola until the 17th of April, five days after the fort had 
been reinforced and made safe by landing Vogdes s command, 
pursuant to the order sent from the Navy Department by Lieu 
tenant Worden. There was, doubtless, an object in sending the 
Powhatan to Pensacola, and there was, of course, an object in 
secreting the fact, and withholding all knowldege of the enter 
prise from both the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the 
Navy, who, of all others, should have known it. If that object 
was, as has been stated, not so much to relieve Pickens as to 
prevent the relief of Sumter and necessitate the evacuation, the 
object was attained. The pledge "Faith in regard to Sumter 
wait and see," will be understood. Faith may thereby have 
been kept with the rebel leaders, though faith towards the 
Secretaries of War and Navy may be less susceptible of ex 

The following are the orders from the President which led 
to the withdrawal of the Powhatan from her destination, to the 
breaking of Captain Mercer s orders, and to his detachment 
from his vessel by a lieutenant without the knowledge of the 
Secretary of the Navy, and without any record of the transaction 
in the Navy Department: 

EXECUTIVE MANSION, April 1, 1861. 
Lieutenant D. D. Porter, U. S. Navy. 


You will proceed to New York, and, with the least pos 
sible delay, assuming command of any naval steamer avail- 

Fort Sumter 73 

able, proceed to Pensacola harbor, and at any cost or risk 
prevent any expedition from the main land reaching Fort 
Pickens or Santa Rosa Island. 

You will exhibit this order to any Naval officer at Pensa 
cola, if you deem it necessary, after you have established 
yourself within the harbor, and will request cooperation 
by the entrance of at least one other steamer. 

This order, its object, and your destination will be com 
municated to no person whatever until you reach the 
harbor of Pensacola. 

Recommended WILLIAM H. SEWARD. 



Lieutenant D. D. Porter will take command of the 
steamer Powhatan, or any other U. S. steamer ready for sea 
which he may deem most fit for the service to which he 
has been assigned by confidential instructions of this date. 

All officers are commanded to afford him all such facili 
ties as he may deem necessary for getting to sea as soon as 

He will select the officers to accompany him. 

Recommended WILLIAM H. SEWARD. 



All officers of the army and navy to whom this order 
may be exhibited will aid, by every means in their power, 
the expedition under the command of Colonel Harvey 
Brown, supplying him with men and material, and co 
operating with him as he may desire. 

A true copy: 

M. C. MEIGS, Captain of Engineers, 

Chief Engineer of said Expedition. 


74 Civil War and Reconstruction 

These orders, signed by the President, were part of the 
papers prepared by Mr. Seward, with the assistance of Captain 
Meigs and Lieutenant Porter, on the 1st of April, when the 
Executive order to create a new bureau, and directing me to 
take Barron, the agent and mediator in the Pickens intrigue 
and captain in the rebel service, into my confidence, and make 
him the detailing officer of the Navy Department, was "ex 
tracted" from the President and sent to me. The papers relating 
to the Pickens expedition were not disclosed to me, however, 
until after the midnight interview of the 6th of April, and 
after the Sumter expedition had sailed on an abortive mission. 
Apprehensive, it would seem, that the general order of the 1st 
of April to Lieutenant Porter might not be conclusive with 
Captain Mercer, who was a strict disciplinarian, and would 
hesitate to obey any order that did not emanate regularly from 
or pass through the Navy Department, the following specific 
letter was prepared on the 2d of April, and the President s 
signature thereto procured: 

WASHINGTON CITY, April 2, 1861. 
Captain S. MERCER, U. S. Navy. 


Circumstances render it necessary to place in command 
of your ship (and for a special purpose) an officer who is 
fully informed and instructed in relation to the wishes of 
the Government; and you will therefore consider yourself 
detached. But in taking this step the Government does not 
in the least reflect upon your efficiency or patriotism, but 
on the contrary have the fullest confidence in your ability 
to perform any duty required of you. Hoping soon to be 
able to give you a better command than the one you now 
enjoy, and trusting that you will have full confidence in 
the disposition of the Government towards you, 

I remain, etc., 


A true copy: 

M. C. MEIGS, Captain of Engineers, 

Chief Engineer of Expedition of Colonel Brown. 

Fort Sumter 75 

Captain Mercer wrote me on the 8th the following letter, 
explaining under what circumstances he had given up his vessel: 

NAVY-YARD, New York, April, 8, 1861. 
To the Hon. GIDEON WELLES,, 
Secretary of the Navy, Washington City. 


Your "confidential" instructions of the 5th instant were 
received on the next day, and I was on the eve of carrying 
them out when Lieutenant D. D. Porter, of the navy, and 
Captain Meigs, of the army, came to ine, showing such 
written instructions from the President, and verbally com 
municating other facts showing their authority from this 
high source, that Lieutenant Porter s being placed in com 
mand of the Powhatan was virtually necessary, and that the 
President s positive commands to both of these officers were 
that no deviation from his instructions should be made 
unless by his own direction. 

Under these circumstances, I regarded the order from the 
President of the United States as imperative, and accord 
ingly placed Lieutenant Porter in command of the Pow 

I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant, 


Mr. Seward, in obedience to the midnight mandate of Presi 
dent Lincoln, on the 6th of April sent the following telegram 
to Lieutenant Porter, but the Powhatan had left the Navy-yard 
when the despatch was received: 

Give up the Powhatan to Captain Mercer. SEWARD. 

Commander, subsequently Rear-Admiral Foote was at that 
time Executive Officer of the Brooklyn Navy-yard, and on 
receiving this telegram of Mr. Seward, he despatched a tug in 
pursuit. But this despatch was a mere telegram signed "Seward/ 1 
while Lieutenant Porter had full written power from the Presi 
dent, which, even if there were no other understanding, he felt 
would be his justification in retaining the Powhatan from her 

76 Civil War and Reconstruction 

legitimate commander. He therefore continued on with the 
vessel, and the Sumter expedition was robbed of its flag-ship. 
These extraordinary proceedings, wherein the Secretary of 
State assumed the duties and functions of the War and Navy 
Departments, without the knowledge of the head of either of 
those departments, caused surprise and for a time some little 
dissatisfaction. The President did not conceal his mortification 
and regret at the occurrence, but with characteristic unselfish 
ness assumed all the blame, declared it was his neglect, and in 
a letter to Mr. Fox, who felt annoyed that his plan had failed, 
President Lincoln said: "By accident, for which you were in no 
wise responsible, and possibly I to some extent was, you were 
deprived of a war vessel with her men, which you deemed of 
great importance to the enterprise." It was, however, no fault 
originating with him, but a piece of maladministration, of im 
proper and inexcusable interference by one department with 
others, of apparent distrust where there should have been un 
restricted confidence, andaside from any pledge to or compli 
city with the rebel leaders had other serious objections, which 
the President assured me more than once would never be re 
peated. It was not. Nor had I ever after a like experience. 
Neither then nor ever during our subsequent intimate personal 
and official relations, in many and great trials, was there any 
misunderstanding between us, nor did I ever have occasion to 
doubt the upright sincerity and honest intentions of that extra 
ordinary man, who to the last moment of his life honored me 
with his confidence and friendship. He had, however, been once 
led into error, and there had been manifested by the head of 
one department a disposition to interfere with and manage 
other departments, so subversive of correct administration that, 
to guard against future similar proceedings so far as the navy 
was concerned, and to prevent the confusion that must in 
evitably follow from such irregularities, I took occasion, as 
opportunity presented, to caution naval officers in regard to 
the orders which they might receive. Commodore Paulding was 
going at that time to New York, and I sent by him to Com 
mander Foote, an old and valued friend from the days "when 

Fort Sumter 77 

we were boys together," a word on the importance of receiving 
orders from the proper source. When these suggestions were 
communicated I had not seen the secret orders signed by the 
President, nor was I aware how far he had been committed to 
these irregular proceedings. Commander Foote wrote me, after 
his interview with Commodore Paulding, the following letter: 


NAVY-YARD, New York, April 9, 1861. 
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C. 


Commodore Paulding quietly informed me this morning, 
that you had suggested to him to say to me in a kind way, 
that I had better execute no orders unless coming from you. 

I fully appreciate the delicate manner in which you have 
communicated your impressions to me, but I beg to say, 
most respectfully, in my own vindication, that in reference 
to the sailing of the Powhatan, specially referred to, I did 
detain that vessel as far as I had authority to do it, on re 
ceiving your telegram to do so, and until Captain Mercer, 
my superior officer, informed me that he should transfer 
his ship to Lieutenant-Commander Porter, who would sail 
with her, as he did, on the 6th instant. Again, in referring 
to the events of the past week, I believe that in a personal 
interview I could fully show that I have pursued the only 
course which could possibly have accomplished the work 
which has been executed; and in case of the Powhatan, after 
preparing her for sea in the shortest space of time, agreeably 
to your orders, as I was only a commander and not the 
commandant, my authority over her ceased, and she was 
controlled by my superior officer. In fact, I was not con 
sulted, nor was I even present, when Captains Mercer, 
Meigs, and Porter in consultation concluded that the ship 
should be placed in the hands of Captain, or rather Lieu 
tenant-Commanding Porter. 

I have the honor to be, with much respect and esteem, 
your obedient servant, 


78 Civil War and Reconstruction 

When the President, after much hesitation, finally decided 
that an attempt should be made to supply Fort Sumter, it was 
coupled, as stated, with the further decision that the authorities 
at Charleston should be informed of his intention that supplies 
would be sent peaceably or otherwise by force. This notification 
and qualification was acquiesced in, though none of the Cabinet 
except Mr. Seward were advised of any pledge, or pledges, or 
understanding with the rebel Commissioners, and that he was 
a party I have no knowledge except what is communicated in 
the statements of the rebel Commissioners, the remarks of Mr. 
Blair, and the semi-official admissions of Mr. Thurlow Weed, 
the confidential friend of Mr. S., and I may add also by the 
attending circumstances. Indeed, it was understood those Com 
missioners were not to be recognized or treated with. If, as is 
claimed, any promise was given them, directly or by implication, 
that Fort Sumter should be evacuated, it was unauthorized. 
At one time, after hearing the views of Generals Scott and 
Totten, and Major Anderson and his officers, the opinion of 
each of the members of the Administration was obtained, and 
all, with the exception of Mr. Blair, came to the conclusion 
that it would be impossible to provision the garrison. The 
pledge or assurance that the fort should be evacuated is claimed 
to have been given through Judge Campbell at that time. It 
was, if made, a communication of Cabinet consultations and 
understandings that were yet in embryo, and which the results 
showed were not conclusive. In fact, the final decision was in 
direct opposition to and in conflict with such a pledge, for it 
was decided the fort should not be evacuated without an at 
tempt to relieve it. The first assurance, given in March, is 
claimed to have been unqualified that Sumter should be evacu 
ated. But Judge Campbell says he received on the 1st of April, 
from the Secretary of State, the following statement in writing: 
"I am satisfied the Government will not undertake to supply 
Fort Sumter without giving notice to Governor P." On the very 
day of its date the order to Porter was given, and on the suc 
ceeding day the further order which displaced Mercer and with 
drew the Powhatan from the Sumter expedition was, to use the 
word of General Meigs, "extracted" from the President without 

Fort Sumter 70 

his being aware of the effect of those orders. Judge Campbell 
and the Commissioners appear to have rested quietly under the 
modified assurance of the 1st of April; but alarmed by the prep 
arations which the Government was making in New York, Judge 
C, on the 7th of April, addressed a note to Mr. Seward and 
received in reply: "Faith as to Sumter fully kept-wait and see." 
When this pledge was given the Powhatan had left, not for 
Sumter as ordered by the Government under command of 
Captain Mercer, but for Pensacola under Lieutenant Porter. 

The expedition, without the flag-ship, sailed on the 6th 
and 7th of April. On the 8th Governor Pickens was officially 
advised of the fact, and, as the vessels were to rendezvous ten 
miles off Charleston light on the llth, there was ample time 
allowed the insurgents to make preparations for resistance. 
There would seem to have been a deliberate purpose to render 
the Sumter expedition the first of the war abortive; to prevent 
the garrison from receiving supplies; to compel Major Anderson 
to surrender and evacuate the fort; for every step taken, every 
measure adopted, was met and thwarted by counteracting meas 
ures, most of them secret, emanating from or sanctioned by the 
President, who was unsuspectingly made to defeat his own orders 
and purposes. How far the conferees of different parties who 
held counsel or were in communication on these matters in the 
winter of 1861, had become committed to or were complicated 
in any scheme or policy in relation to the final disposition of 
Fort Sumter, has never been stated. The relief of the garrison 
and the abandonment of the fortress were questions earnestly 
discussed in the Buchanan Cabinet; but action was postponed 
until his retirement. Under what arrangement, pledge, or under 
standing, if any, that postponement took place, is not publicly 
known. Mr. Lincoln and his Cabinet, with one exception per 
haps, were not parties to it. 

The secessionists seem to have anticipated there would be 
a peaceful surrender of the fort; that the Confederate Com 
missioners would be eventually received and their diplomatic 
character recognized; that the wayward sisters would be per 
mitted to go in peace; and it was prophesied that a satisfactory 
adjustment would take place in ninety days. But hopes proved 

80 Civil War and Reconstruction 

delusive and prophecies failures, for scarcely half that number 
of days elapsed after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln when the 
great conflict commenced at Sumter. 

An interesting history of the Sumter expedition has been 
given by Mr. Fox, who commanded it, and is published in 
Boynton s "History of the Navy during the Rebellion," which 
I should be glad to incorporate into this statement, but am 
prevented by its length. The squadron encountered a gale 
soon after leaving Sandy Hook, and none of the vessels readied 
the place of rendezvous until the morning of the 12th of April. 
The rebels had been informed on the 8th of the intention of 
the Administration to send supplies to the garrison, and a cor 
respondence was immediately opened on receiving this notice 
between Beauregard, in command of the insurgent forces, and 
the rebel government at Montgomery, ending with a demand of 
immediate surrender. On the refusal of Major Anderson, fire 
was opened at 4:30 A.M. of the 12th on the fortress, and Mr. 
Fox, who arrived in the army transport Baltic, found only the 
Harriet Lane at the rendezvous. The Pawnee arrived a 6 A.M. 
Mr. Fox at once boarded her and requested her commander to 
stand in to the bar with him; but Commander Rowan replied, 
"that his orders required him to remain ten miles east of the 
light and await the Powhatan." The Baltic and the Harriet 
Lane therefore proceeded, and as they neared the land the 
firing was heard and the smoke and shells from the batteries 
were visible. No other vessel of the squadron arrived that day, 
but, says Mr. Fox, "feeling sure that the Powhatan would arrive 
during the night, as she had sailed from New York two days 
before us, I stood out to the appointed rendezvous and made 
signals all night. The morning of the 13th was thick and foggy." 
No Powhatan appeared. In the course of the day he "learned 
for the first time that Commander Rowan had received a note 
from Captain Mercer, of the Powhatan, dated at New York on 
the 6th, the day he sailed, stating the Powhatan was detached 
by superior authority from the duty to which she was assigned 
off Charleston, and had sailed for another destination. I left 
New York two days afterwards without any intimation of this 

Fort Sumter 81 

Mr. Fox adds: "My plan for supplying Fort Sumter required 
three hundred sailors, a full supply of armed launches, and three 
tugs. The Powhatan carried the sailors and launches, and when 
this vessel was about to leave in obedience to the orders of the 
Secretary of the Navy, two officers, Lieutenant D. D. Porter, 
U. S. Navy, and Captain M. C. Meigs, U. S. Engineers, presented 
themselves on board with an order from the President of the 
United States, authorizing the former to take any vessel what 
ever in commission and proceed immediately to the Gulf of 
Mexico. This order did not pass through the Navy Department, 
and was unknown to the Secretary of the Nav^ and when 
signed by the President he was not conscious that his signature 
would deprive me of the means to accomplish an object which 
he held to be of vital importance." The squadron with supplies, 
but without flag-ship and men and launches which had been 
provided on her, was powerless. It might have been unavailing 
after the gale separated it, and the insurgents were notified and 
had time to prepare for its reception. But the strange detach 
ment of the Powhatan would, under any circumstances, have 
rendered the expedition fruitless. Whatever unpleasant feeling 
may have existed at the moment on the part of any member of 
the Cabinet or of the President himself in regard to the failure 
of the Sumter expedition, or the fitting out of a military expedi 
tion by the Secretary of State to strengthen the already rein 
forced garrison at Pickens, to which was surreptitiously and 
needlessly added an important naval vessel, ordered to other 
duty, was of short duration. It was, however, an experience 
not without its lesson, and resulting benefits to the Administra 
tion, for it contributed to settle in some degree and define the 
province of the different departments of the Government under 
President Lincoln. Until these occurrences there was, in some 
quarters, an impression, not to say assumption, that the Secre 
tary of State occupied in the Administration a position analo 
gous to that of the Premier in Great Britain; that he was 
virtually the Executive the acting President; and that his orders 
extended to and controlled the other departments. The Presi 
dent soon corrected these great errors. He let it be understood 
that he was President in fact as well as in name, and though 

82 Civil War and Reconstruction 

not exempt from the influence of associates, he was particularly 
careful thereafter that no one of the Secretaries should arrogate, 
and, without assent or knowledge, exercise the functions of 
another. His trust and confidence was given to each one of his 
political family without reserve or limitation. Each was but a 
part of the Executive, of which the President was chief. 

Prior to these events there had been no regular stated 
Cabinet meetings. The members were frequently convened, 
almost invariably by special invitation through the Secretary 
of State, sometimes in full session; sometimes only such as were 
particularly interested in the subject-matter were invited, with 
the exception of the Secretary of State, who usually issued the 
notices to the heads of departments to assemble, and was always 
present on every occasion and whatever were the measures under 
consideration. To obviate difficulties and prevent a recurrence 
of such proceedings as had taken place, as well as to avail him 
self of the views of each and all his Cabinet on public affairs, 
the President soon after directed that there should be regular 
Cabinet sessions at meridian on Tuesdays and Fridays, at which 
important measures of administration should be submitted. 

The attempt by the Government, in the discharge of its 
imperative duty, to send supplies to a garrison in one of the 
forts belonging to the United States, met, it will be seen, with 
many embarrassments, and when finally made, was forcibly 
resisted by the insurgents at Charleston, who then and there 
placed themselves in open, defiant rebellion, fired the first gun, 
committed the first act of war, and commenced the first assault 
on the flag, the troops, and a national fortress. After a bombard 
ment of two days, Fort Sumter was evacuated on the 14th of 
April, and on the next day, the 15th, President Lncoln issued 
his proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand men, and con 
vening Congress in special session on the 4th of July. 


Fort Pickens 


The most important fort along the Gulf Coast which 
the Federal navy retained throughout the Civil Wat 
was Fort Pickens in Pensacola Harbor. To demonstrate 
clearly that the Navy Department had taken steps to 
secure this installation in Florida long before David 
Dixon Porter arrived aboard the Powhatan, the Secre 
tary of the Navy here recalls the details connected with 
the relief of the Fort. 

I? LORIDA, IN MANY particulars a favored State, became 
from the time of its admission into the Union almost a de 
pendency of South Carolina, and followed and seconded that 
nullifying and seceding commonwealth in all its wayward move 
ments. From its locality as a key to the Gulf of Mexico, the 
maritime outlet of the great central valley of the Union, and 
as regards the interests of commerce and navigation generally, 
the southern peninsula was of value and importance to the 
country. The limited population of the territory, which at the 
time of its admission was hardly equal to what was requisite for 
a single representative district, gave it little claim to recognition 
as a State. The territory was originally purchased from Spain, 
during the Monroe administration, at a cost of several millions; 
but many times the amount of the first purchase had been ex 
pended from the Federal treasury in subduing and expelling 

The Galaxy, XI (January, 1871). 


84 Civil War and Reconstruction 

the wild and refractory population, consisting of Indians, ne 
groes, mixed breeds, piratical adventurers, and outlaws, who 
had made the swamps and everglades a place of refuge so long 
as it was a province of Spain. In 1845 the few and not yet 
homogeneous inhabitants, were organized and admitted into 
the Federal Union as a State. The act was premature and un 
wise, but it was done in order to preserve what the politicians 
of that day termed "the equilibrium of the States." This theory 
of the "equilibrium" was one of the many strange compromises 
or expedients which were resorted to by certain conspicuous 
party leaders, who made it a study to evade or postpone im 
mediate action on difficult and exciting questions as they arose, 
instead of boldly meeting and honestly disposing of them. By 
this particular compromise or theory of "equilibrium," no free 
State, whatever might be the number of its inhabitants, its 
claims, or its self-sustaining ability as a distinct community, 
could be recognized and admitted as a State into the Federal 
Union, unless there was corresponding slave territory also ad 
mitted, no matter how few its inhabitants, or small their ability 
to support a government, nor how meagre their claim to State 
recognition. Florida, petted and nursed for nearly thirty years 
after its acquisition, a constant draft and drag on the Federal 
treasury, with an insufficient population, and with no claims 
whatever to be a State, was admitted into the Federal Union 
in 1845, as an offset to Iowa, in order to preserve the equilib 
rium compromise; a compromise which served to beget and 
foster that sectional hostility which eventuated in civil war 
that had for its object, and which threatened the destruction 
of the Union. 

The delegate from Florida when a territory, and at the time 
of its admission as a State, was David L. Yulee. He was elected 
its first Senator, and held that position until the passage of 
the ordinance of secession, which assumed to sever the con 
nection of that purchased territory and feeble community with 
the Federal Government, when he resigned Ms seat and with 
drew from Congress. Yulee was of Hebrew origin. His father, 
if I mistake not, was a Barbary Jew. He first took his seat in 
Congress under, the name of David Levy, to which he subse- 

Fort Pickens gg 

quently appended the name of Yulee. He was not destitute of 
ability, but like too many of our legislators, his views were 
narrow and mercenary, and his talents and efforts were to a 
great extent employed in obtaining local favors from the Govern 
ment for his State and himself, rather than in national legisla 
tion, and measures of broad and expansive statesmanship. Fa 
vored by circumstances, he had great influence over the sparse 
and heterogeneous .population, composed in a great measure of 
adventurers, and was active and potent in the secession move 
ment. Yulee is brother-in-law of the Hon. Joseph Holt, the 
present Judge-Advocate-General of the Army, and Secretary of 
War when Florida seceded; each had married a daughter of 
Charles A. Wickliffe of Kentucky, who was Postmaster-General 
under John Tyler. 

The ordinance of secession, which declared this feeble and 
scattered community "a sovereign and independent nation," 
was passed by a State Convention which had been assembled 
on the 10th of January, 1861, and the Navy-yard at Pensacola 
was seized by the rebels on the 12th, two days after. Lieutenant 
Adam J. Slemmer, who was at the time in command of Fort 
McRae, hastily evacuated it when he became aware of the 
treason and treachery on foot, and with about eighty men took 
possession of Pickens, a more important and formidable fortress, 
on Santa Rosa Island. This post, with Fort Jefferson at the 
Dry Tortugas, and Fort Taylor at Key West the two last lying 
off the Florida coast remained in possession of the Government 
when the change of administration took place on the 4th of 
March. It was asserted on the 10th of January, by the Conven 
tion which adopted the ordinance of secession, that "the State 
of Florida is hereby declared a sovereign and independent na 
tion." But, by an understanding which the Federal Government 
soon after entered into with certain rebel leaders, the "sovereign 
and independent nation" of Florida consented to abstain from 
extending its authority over the forts of the United States by 
any belligerent act, provided the Federal Government would 
in the mean time remain inactive. Under this understanding or 
truce with those who were plotting the disruption of the Union, 
the dignity, power, and rightful authority of the Federal Gov- 

86 Civil War and Reconstruction 

ernment during the winter of 1861 seemed to the conspirators 
and to the world like the expiring Administration near their 

In the exercise of its power as a "sovereign and independent 
nation," Florida had taken possession of the Navy-yard and 
forts at Pensacola, with the exception of Pickens, which the 
"nation" and its abettors forbore to attack for the time being 
under the truce referred to; and from the same cause, or from 
lack of ability and means, the winter passed away without that 
"nation s" occupying Forts Taylor and Jefferson, on the Tor- 
tugas and at Key West. 

Several statements, official, semi-official, and otherwise, have 
been made in relation to the relief of these forts, and especially 
in regard to the first reinforcement of Fort Pickens, in the spring 
of 186L None of the published accounts present a full and 
correct narrative of all the facts and circumstances connected 
with the relief and reinforcement, on two several occasions, of 
that fortress. The differing statements may be accounted for, 
in part at least, by the fact that there were several movements 
at different dates, and by different parties, to effect that object, 
and to provide for the security of Pickens and points off the 
Florida coast. 

The Buchanan Administration, after the surrender of the 
Navy-yard at Pensacola, had as early as January sent out an 
artillery force under Captain Vogdes, on board the steamer 
Brooklyn, to reinforce the garrison in Fort Pickens; but before 
the troops were landed the truce was entered into that the 
Government would pursue a policy of inaction, provided the 
rebels would make no assault. This truce or armistice, though 
not reduced to writing, seems to have been faithfully observed 
by those who were administering the Government, and, as 
regards Pickens, by those who were plotting its overthrow. At 
Pensacola, as at Charleston, the Government under Mr. Bu 
chanan remained passive, while the conspirators were active 
and unrestrained. This non-coercive policy of the Government 
appears to have been adopted after the troops to reinforce 
Pickens had embarked at Fortress Monroe upon the Brooklyn, 
but before that vessel reached Pensacola. Consequently, Captain 

Fort Pickens 87 

Vogdes s command was not permitted to land, but was detained 
on board until after the expiration of Mr. Buchanan s term 
of service. This suspension of action by the Government, and 
abstinence from the exercise of rightful power a compromise 
with those who were openly resisting and defying Federal au 
thoritythis arrangement by which the Government agreed not 
to reinforce its own garrisons in its own forts, as at Sumter and 
Pickens this consenting that the troops should be restrained 
from landing, and detained for weeks on shipboard within 
sight of their destination had a most unhappy and depressing 
influence on the friends of the Union, and tended to inspire 
and encourage those who were opposed to it. 

When the change of administration took place on the 4th 
of March, and Mr. Lincoln entered upon his duties as Chief 
Magistrate, he found the Government without extra means or 
preparation to maintain its power or enforce its authority. The 
retiring Administration had done nothing to suppress the in 
surrection, while the rebels, under the quasi-armistice, had been 
active and untiring in promoting it. A change of policy, as well 
as a change of administration, took place on the inauguration 
of President Lincoln; but some little time and preparation 
were necessary to get the Government on a permanent footing 
and in working order. As rapidly as possible, the new Adminis 
tration took up the various subjects, civil, military, and politi 
cal, demanding attention. The condition of affairs through the 
whole South was deplorable. Among the matters of immediate 
interest were those which related to the few military posts at 
the South that were still retained by the Government with small 
and wholly insufficient garrisons, and the Secretary of the 
Treasury was extremely solicitous in regard to the lights and 
light-houses on the Southern coast. He early brought the sub 
ject to the notice of the President and Cabinet, and a cor 
respondence between two officers attached to the Light-house 
Board, which had been submitted to him, hastened action. It 
seems that while the higher functionaries who administered 
the Government had through the winter been tampering with 
those who were in insurrection, and entering into a truce or 
understanding with them to tide over the few remaining weeks 

88 Civil War and Reconstruction 

of their official life, there had been vigilance and activity among 
officers then in subordinate positions. Commander (now Rear- 
Admiral) Jenkins and Captain (subsequently Major-General) 
Wm. F. Smith, familiarly known as Baldy Smith, were in the 
winter of 1861 attached to the Light-house Board, the former 
Naval Secretary, the latter as Engineer Secretary. These two 
officers, thus associated, freely interchanged views. Both were 
impressed with the danger that threatened Fort Jefferson and 
Fort Taylor, which would, if no steps were taken to prevent it, 
be likely to pass into the possession of the rebels, to the great 
annoyance of our commerce and injury to the country. Privateers 
would make the Tortugas and Key West places of refuge in 
case of war; and by the destruction of the light-houses in that 
dangerous vicinity navigation would be rendered insecure. They 
communicated their apprehensions to General Dix, at that time 
Secretary of the Treasury, and their purpose to ascertain the 
condition of things in that quarter. Their suggestions, without 
entering into details, were approved. Captain Smith therefore 
took the steamer for Havana, and visited Tortugas and Key 
West under the pretext of inspecting the lights. Soon after the 
change of administration Commander Jenkins received a letter 
from Captain Smith, who had been to Dry Tortugas and Fort 
Taylor, saw the danger to which they were exposed, and satis 
fied himself what was best to be done for their safety. The con 
tents of the letter were communicated to Mr. Chase, who had 
relieved General Dix as Secretary of the Treasury, and to whom 
it was their duty to report. Secretary Chase was alive to the 
importance of the subject, and forthwith made known to the 
President and Cabinet the information he had received. Com 
mander Jenkins was immediately put in communication with 
General Scott and myself in relation to these matters. Prompt 
action was required to save the stations off the coast. But more 
interesting and important perhaps than either was the condi 
tion of things at Pensacola and Fort Pickens. General Scott was 
much exercised on these matters, and became particularly so 
licitous that Vogdes s command should be disembarked and 
Fort Pickens relieved. At a late hour on the llth of March, the 

Fort Pickens 89 

day, I think, on which Secretary Chase gave the information 
received from Commander Jenkins, General Scott made applica 
tion to me for a naval vessel to convey a bearer of despatches 
from the War Department to Fort Pickens. There were at that 
time but two or three vessels in the Atlantic ports that were 
available. Which of them was best adapted to the service was 
a question, and who of the officers was most reliable for this 
duty was to be carefully considered. Secrecy was indispensable; 
but the Navy Department, as well as all the other departments of 
the Government, was in a demoralized condition. Of those best 
informed and most capable of giving an opinion, it was difficult 
for me, not then a week in office, to decide in every instance 
who were to be trusted. Commander Ward, an old acquaintance 
from boyhood, I knew was faithful. He was stationed on the 
receiving ship at Brooklyn, but had been summoned to Wash 
ington in relation to an expedition to reinforce Fort Sumter. 
This project he had relinquished, and was on the point of re 
turning to New York when General Scott preferred his request. 
On receiving it, 1 sent a messenger, who overtook Commander 
Ward at the railroad depot, and requested him to meet me that 
evening at the Department. Secretary Chase notified Com 
mander Jenkins to join Commander Ward and myself at my 
office at nine o clock that evening. Both officers were prompt 
in their attendance. No persons except my doorkeeper and the 
watchmen were in the building when we came together. The 
subject-matter was discussed in confidence; and it was concluded 
that the Crusader, Commander T. A. Craven, and the Mohawk, 
Commander J. H. Strong, were both available, and each of 
their commanders faithful and to be trusted. The Crusader, 
Captain Craven, was selected. Three years later this gallant 
officer commanded the iron-clad Tecumseh, and went down 
and was lost with his vessel, which was destroyed by a torpedo 
opposite Fort Morgan, when Farragut entered the Bay of Mobile, 
in 1864. The following order was prepared that evening and 
intrusted to Commander Ward to deliver personally to Captain 

90 Civil War and Reconstruction 


NAVY DEPARTMENT, March 11, 1861. 
Commander T. A. M. CRAVEN, 
Commanding U.S.S. Crusader. 


A bearer of despatches from the Government will pre 
sent himself to you for passage to the United States steamer 
Brooklyn, supposed to be off Fort Pickens, Pensacola harbor. 
You will proceed to that locality with all practical despatch, 
place the bearer of despatches on board the Brooklyn, and 
then make the best of your way to Key West, where you 
will communicate with Judge Marvin of the United States 
Court, and afford every protection in your power to the 
United States authorities, and to the naval stores, light 
house, and other United States property there. 

The Department desires that you will not absent your 
self from Key West or its immediate vicinity, unless ordered 
to do so from here, or in your judgment it becomes necessary 
to do so to protect the reef lights. 

Commander Pickering, U. S. Navy, the Light-house In 
spector on the Florida coast, should be conferred with with 
reference to the safety of the lights on the Florida reefs; 
and any assistance that you may be able and deem necessary 
to afford him, without jeopardizing interests at Key West, 
should be given to him. 

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 

On the following day General Scott informed me that he 
might be unable to spare an officer to go to Pensacola with 
his orders; and if the naval officer was faithful, he could as 
well as a special messenger deliver the despatches to Captain 
Vogdes on the Brooklyn. With an assurance that Commander 
Graven was reliable, the subject was left at his option. At the 
same time when stating his embarrassment, General Scott made 
a requisition for another vessel to convoy a transport or trans 
ports to Texas, to bring North the troops abandoned by Twiggs 
when he deserted. The importance of a sufficient force at Key 

Fort Pickens gi 

West to retain that important post, suggested the expediency 
of leaving a portion of the Texas troops at that station. I re 
quested Commander Jenkins to call on General Scott with this 
suggestion, which he did. It met the approval of the Lieutenant 
General, and he agreed to and did order Major French, and 
four companies returning from Texas, to stop at Key West. 
In order to comply with the army requisitions for two naval 
vessels, one to proceed to Pensacola and one to convoy the army 
transport, it became necessary to send both the Crusader and 
the Mohawk to the Gulf. I therefore, on the 12th of March, 
addressed the following despatch to Commander Foote, execu 
tive officer of the Brooklyn Navy-yard Commodore Breese, the 
commandant, was absent on other duty: 


NAVY DEPARTMENT, March 12, 1861. 
Commander A. H. FOOTE, 
Commandant Navy-yard, New York. 


I sent an order yesterday by Commander James H. 
Ward, U. S. N. to Lieutenant-Commanding Craven, to pro 
ceed on certain service therein named. It is now necessary 
to send either the Crusader or Mohawk to convoy the 
steamer Empire City, employed on army duty. 

You will please despatch, immediately on the receipt 
of this order, either the Crusader or Mohawk to the Quar 
antine, and direct the commanding officer to accompany 
the Empire City on her voyage, and continue with her as 
long as protection may be deemed necessary by the army 
or other officer in charge, for the protection of the persons 
and public property embarked. 

In case you find it necessary to convoy the Empire City, 
you will direct Lieutenant-Commanding Craven to return 
the order to him dated yesterday by this Department to 
you, and you will hand it to Lieutenant-Commanding 
Strong of the Mohawk, with instructions to proceed and 
execute those orders in the same manner as though the 
order had been originally addressed to him. 

The War Department may not send a special messenger, 

92 Civil War and Reconstruction 

as was indicated in the order to the commander of the 
Crusader, but in that event a letter will be sent to be de 
livered to the commander of the U. S. steamer Brooklyn. 

Colonel Tompkins, U. S. A., New York, should be con 
ferred with before despatching these vessels. 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 

There was delay in the departure of one or both of these 
vessels, in consequence of difficulties in the Adjutant-General s 
office in detailing the companies which were to stop at Key 
West. The voyage of the Crusader was also somewhat pro 
tracted, and after a fortnight and more had elapsed the failure 
to receive tidings from Pensacola began to give us great so 
licitude. Several days of painful uncertainty were passed when, 
on the afternoon of the 6th of April, an officer, travel-stained 
and much exhausted, entered my room at the Department, and 
announced himself as Lieutenant Gwathmey, with despatches 
from Captain Adams, in command of the squadron off Pensa 
cola. Unstrapping a belt from beneath his garments, he handed 
me a package which contained the following letter: 



I have the honor to enclose a copy of a letter addressed 
to me by Captain Vogdes, U. S. A., who is here in com 
mand of some troops sent out in January last to reinforce 
the garrison of Fort Pickens. I have declined to land the 
men as Captain Vogdes requests, as it would be in direct 
violation of the orders of the Navy Department under 
which I am acting. The instructions from General Scott 
to Captain Vogdes are of old date (March 12), and may 
have been given without a full knowledge of the condition 
of affairs here; they would be no justification. Such a step 
is too important to be taken without the clearest orders 
from proper authority. It would certainly be viewed as a 
hostile act, and would be resisted to the utmost. No one 
acquainted with the feelings of the military assembled under 

Fort Pickens 93 

General Bragg can doubt that it would be considered not 
only a declaration, but an act of war. It would be a serious 
thing to bring on by any precipitation a collision which 
may be entirely against the wishes of the Administration. 
At present both sides are faithfully observing the agree 
ment entered into by the U. S. Government with Mr. 
Mallory and Colonel Chase. This agreement binds us not 
to reinforce Fort Pickens unless it shall be attacked or 
threatened. It binds them not to attack it unless we should 
attempt to reinforce it. I saw General Bragg on the 30th ult, 
who reassured me the conditions on their part should not 
be violated. While I cannot take on myself, under such 
insufficient authority as General Scott s order, the fearful 
responsibility of an act which seems to render civil war 
inevitable, I am ready at all times to carry out whatever 
orders I may receive from the Honorable the Secretary 
of the Navy. 

In conclusion, I beg you will please to send me instruc 
tions as soon as possible, that I may be relieved from a 
painful embarrassment. 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

H. A. ADAMS, Captain, senior officer present. 
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C. 

To Captain H. A. ADAMS, 
commanding naval forces off Pensacola. 


Herewith I send you a copy of an order received by me 
last night. You will see by it that I am directed to land 
my command at the earliest opportunity. I have therefore 
to request that you will place at my disposal such boats 
and other means as will enable me to carry into effect 
the enclosed order. 

Yours, etc., 

I. VOGDES, Captain First Artillery, commanding. 

94 Civil War and Reconstruction 


March 12, 1861. 

At the first favorable moment you will land with your 
company, reinforce Fort Pickens, and hold the same until 
further notice. 

Report frequently, if opportunities present themselves, 
on the condition of the fort and the circumstances around 

I write by command of Lieutenant-General Scott. 

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

E. D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General. 
Captain I. VOGDES, IT. S. A., on board the U. S. sloop-of- 
war Brooklyn, off Fort Pickens, Pensacola harbor, Florida. 

This information and the course of Captain Adams caused 
great disappointment. Parts of it were incomprehensible. The 
"orders of the Navy Department" alluded to, and the alleged 
agreement "entered into by the United States Government with 
Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase," were matters of which the 
President and myself were not advised. We were aware, as was 
the whole country, that the Administration of Mr. Buchanan had 
acted on the do-nothing policy, and it was generally supposed 
the rebels permitted his Administration to expire without being 
molested, on condition the Government would remain inactive. 
We knew, however, of no written orders or truce of the character 
mentioned. In declining to recognize the orders of General 
Scott, and refusing to land the troops by reason of the truce 
referred to, Captain Adams was not altogether satisfied with his 
own decision, and hence had despatched Lieutenant Gwathmey 
express to me for specific orders. 

Some suspicions were entertained of the fidelity of Captain 
Adams, whose sympathies were reported to be with the secession 
ists. His estate was in the South, and, like some other officers, 
it was his misfortune to behold his family taking opposite sides 
in the rising conflict. A portion of them were avowed secession 
ists. One of his sons became an officer in the rebel service; one 

Fort Pickens 95 

followed the fortunes of his father and his flag. My position in 
regard to him was for a time one of painful responsibility. To 
wound the sensibilities of an honorable, sensitive, and patriotic 
officer, by depriving him of his command on mere suspicion, 
would be keenly felt by him as cruel and unjust, and cause dis 
satisfaction on the part of good men who knew and had con 
fidence in him; yet to retain him, when his fidelity was doubted, 
in a high and trusty post in such a crisis, might, if circumstances 
were adverse, subject the Government, and especially myself, to 
censure. Embarrassments such as these, when the country was 
in a shattered condition, and the political organizations of the 
nation were crumbling to pieces, were abundant and hard to 
be met. Justice to Captain Adams, a correct officer, who had 
great professional pride and patriotic instincts, whatever were 
his political or party sympathies, and however he may have 
hesitated in this instance, requires it to be stated that he faith 
fully performed his duty. He strictly obeyed the orders sent him, 
and by his activity and efforts contributed to the safety of Fort 
Pickens, when, had he been unfaithful, the place might have 
been lost. 

Lieutenant Washington Gwathmey, the special messenger to 
whom Captain Adams intrusted his important confidential des 
patches, was a Virginian, deeply imbued with the false theories 
that were prevalent at the South. He conceived that his obliga 
tions to his State were paramount to those he owed his country. 
Although wearing the uniform, holding the commission, and 
receiving pay of the Federal Government, he believed it to be his 
duty to obey a factious party then in the ascendant in Virginia, 
rather than the legally constituted authorities and laws of the 
United States. But these false and erroneous opinions did not 
prevent him from faithfully discharging the trust confided to 
him by Captain Adams. Virginia had not then attempted to throw 
off her Federal obligation. Leaving Pensacola, he travelled night 
and day, and passing through Richmond, where he belonged, 
without stopping, he reached Washington on the afternoon of 
the 6th of April. Without going to his hotel, he came immediately 
to the Navy Department and relieved himself of his message, as 

96 Civil War and Reconstruction 

stated, A few days later this officer tendered his resignation, 
which, however, was not accepted. He was dismissed, and soon 
after entered the rebel service. 

I went with the despatch of Captain Adams at once to the 
President. The information received was extremely embarrassing, 
for we were at the time actively engaged, and had been for some 
days, in fitting out an expedition to relieve Fort Sumter. That 
movement could not be delayed; but should the rebels become 
aware of it, they, having possession of the telegraph and every 
facility for communication, would be likely to attack Pickens be 
fore the garrison could be reinforced. It was determined that a 
special messenger, with positive orders, should be forthwith sent 
overland, through the insurrectionary region, to Pensacola, direct 
ing that the troops should be disembarked without delay. Prompt 
ness and despatch were necessary. The expedition destined for 
the relief of Sumter was to sail that day. The hesitancy of 
Captain Adams, whose justification was the truce referred to, 
endangered the safety of the fortress and the possession of Santa 
Rosa Island; for the rebels were in considerable force at Pensa 
cola, and a knowledge of the fact that the Sumter expedition had 
sailed would be likely to precipitate an immediate assault on 
the little garrison under Lieutenant Slemmer in Pickens. With 
out waiting the result of inquiries immediately instituted in 
regard to the alleged truce or agreement, my first duty was to 
find a reliable messenger to proceed by the earliest conveyance 
to Pensacola. It was then past three o clock, and the boat which 
conveyed the mail South left at seven o clock that evening. I sent 
for Paymaster Henry Etting, then in Washington, in whom I had 
confidence, to perform this duty. Although not well, be promptly 
prepared to obey orders, but with an understanding, under the 
circumstances, that another officer should be substituted, if one 
of unquestioned fidelity and energy could be found in season. 
Before five he informed me that Lieutenant John L. Worden 
had just arrived in Washington, for whom he could vouch; and 
such inquiries as I could make of others satisfied me he was 
perfectly reliable. I directed that Lieutenant Worden should 
immediately report to me; and in a brief interview he was in 
formed of my purpose to send him on a secret, responsible, and 

Fart Pickens 97 

perhaps dangerous mission through the South, and that he must 
leave within two hours for Pensacola. He expressed Ms readiness 
to obey orders, and although the time was short, and he in 
differently prepared, he assured me he would be ready to leave 
at the time specified. I directed him to make no mention of his 
orders or his journey to any one, but to call upon me as soon 
as he could get ready. In the mean time I prepared the docu 
ment that was to be confided to him. The fact that he was a 
naval officer, passing through the South not a secessionist, nor 
in sympathy with secessionists might cause him to be chal 
lenged, and perhaps searched. I therefore made the order to 
Captain Adams brief. It was as follows: 


NAVY DEPARTMENT, April 6, 1861. 
Captain HENRY A. ADAMS, 
commanding naval forces off Pensacola. 


Your despatch of April 1st is received. The Department 
regrets that you did not comply with the request of Captain 
Vogdes, to carry into effect the orders of General Scott, 
sent out by the Crusader, under the orders of this Depart 

You will, immediately on the first favorable opportunity 
after the receipt of this order, afford every facility to Cap 
tain Vogdes, by boats and other means, to enable him to 
land the troops under his command, it being the wish and 
intention of the Navy Department to cooperate with the 
War Department in that object. 

I am, sir, respectfully, etc., 

GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy. 

This order, which I read to Lieutenant Worden when he 
called, and gave into his hands unsealed, he committed to 
memory before he reached Richmond, and then destroyed the 
writing. Hurrying on with all possible expedition, he contrived 
to elude detection, and arrived in Pensacola on the llth. Here 
he had an interview with General Bragg, the rebel commander, 

98 Civil War and Reconstruction 

to whom he stated he had a verbal communication from Secre 
tary Welles to Captain Adams, and received a pass to visit that 
officer. He was put on board the Sabine on the I2th of April, 
and communicated my orders to Captain Adams, who promptly 
obeyed them. That night the boats of the squadron, under the 
command of Lieutenant Albert N. Smith, successfully landed 
the artillery company of Captain Vogdes, consisting of 86 men 
and a detachment of 115 marines. The garrison in Fort Pickens, 
which was previously composed of only 83 men, was reinforced, 
and for the time made secure. The success of this movement was 
satisfactory, and of immense importance. It saved to the Gov 
ernment this important fortress on the Gulf of Mexico, and that 
at a critical moment which the delay of a single day would 
have imperilled. The expedition for the relief of Fort Sumter 
sailed on the night that Lieutenant Worden left Washington 
for Pensacola, and President Lincoln had decided that he would, 
when the squadron sailed, notify the authorities at Charleston of 
his intention to provision the fort in their harbor peaceably, or, 
if resisted, by force. The messenger with this communication to 
the Charleston authorities left, if I mistake not, by the same 
conveyance with Lieutenant Worden. Neither of them knew of 
the mission of the other. On the 8th the Governor of South 
Carolina was informed of the President s intention to send sup 
plies to Sumter. When this information was given, Lieutenant 
Worden was pressing forward with all speed, but a vast distance 
was to be overcome before he could reach Pensacola. 

General Beauregard, in command at Charleston, as soon as 
advised that the President had ordered an expedition to Sumter, 
telegraphed the fact to the Confederate Government at Mont 
gomery. Davis and his associates In the Confederate Government 
were not wholly unprepared for the tidings received. They had 
been apprised that extraordinary naval and military movements 
were being made in New York, and when advised by Beauregard 
of President Lincoln s notice to the Charleston authorities, they 
concluded that the truce with Buchanan was cancelled, and de 
termined to anticipate the action of the Federal Government by 
a simultaneous assault on both Sumter and Pickens, in the full 
confidence that the surprise upon the feeble garrisons in those 

Fort Pickens 99 

forts would cause both to fall. The result was, after an inter 
change of messages, and a demand and refusal of Major Ander 
son to surrender, that the bombardment of Sumter commenced 
on the morning of the 12th, the very day on which Pickens was 
reinforced. General Bragg was to have made an attack upon 
Pickens the night succeeding that on which reinforcements were 
thrown into the fort from the squadron; but the additional 
strength to the garrison defeated the project. 

Lieutenant Worden, instead of remaining with the squadron 
and waiting an opportunity to come North by water, commenced 
his return journey by land on the 12th, immediately after de 
livering his message. General Bragg and the rebels at Pensacola, 
when they learned that the troops on the Richmond and Sabine 
had been landed, and the garrison in Pickens reinforced, felt 
themselves too weak to persevere in the proposed assault. Nor 
were they slow in coming to the conclusion that the messenger 
who had arrived and departed so suddenly was an agent of the 
Government, who had been instrumental in this movement. 
Mortified and chagrined that their intentions had been antici 
pated and defeated, they at once telegraphed to the Confederate 
Government a description of Lieutenant Worden, and on the 
morning of the 13th of April, when within five miles of Mont 
gomery, Alabama, five officers of the rebel army entered the car 
and arrested him. The ground assigned for the arrest was that 
he had violated a pledge given to General Bragg, and that he 
had been instrumental in the disembarkation of troops, whereby 
Fort Pickens had been strengthened, contrary to an agreement 
or understanding with Captain Adams. Lieutenant W. had given 
no pledge, and the agreement alluded to, instead of having been 
made by Captain Adams, was an unwritten, quasi armistice or 
truce, mentioned in a communication of Secretaries Holt and 
Toucey, on the 29th of January, addressed to the naval officers 
off Pensacola, and Lieutenant Slemmer in command at Fort 
Pickens. This agreement had been consummated through the 
agency of Captain Samuel Barron, who went from Washington 
to Florida for that purpose. Captain Adams, in his despatch to 
me, makes mention of his having had interviews with General 
Bragg, and of the assurances of that gentleman that the con- 

100 Civil War and Reconstruction 

ditions of the agreement should be observed; but neither then, 
nor at any time, did he enter into any agreement, nor was he 
authorized to make one. But Bragg was censured for remissness 
in giving a pass to the messenger from the Navy Department to 
visit the squadron. It had defeated the rebel scheme to obtain 
possession of the fort, and the indignation was severe against 
Lieutenant Worden, who was detained for seven months a prison 
er at Montgomery. Not until the 13th of November, just seven 
months from the day of his arrest, was he released from captivity. 
He was then sent to Richmond and exchanged for Lieutenant 
Sharp, a rebel officer who was captured at Hatteras Inlet, and 
in whose behalf the rebel authorities took special interest. Soon 
after his release Lieutenant Worden was appointed to the com 
mand of the iron-clad steamer Monitor, the first vessel of her 
class ever put afloat, and his voyage to Hampton Roads and 
encounter with the Merrimack are matters of historic record 
and interest 

The paper or document of Secretaries Holt and Toucey is 
the only written recognition of the truce or agreement entered 
into with the rebels which I remember to have seen, and of the 
existence of this document I am not aware that any member of 
Mr. Lincoln s Administration was informed when orders were 
sent to reinforce Pickens. I never saw it nor knew of it until after 
the receipt of Captain Adams s letter of the 1st of April. It has 
been asserted, and denied, that the Administration of Mr. 
Buchanan established an armistice, or entered into an arrange 
ment with the rebels by which the functions of the Government 
to suppress insurrection and rebellion were suspended. Captain 
Adams states the light in which he and General Bragg viewed the 
communication of Messrs. Holt and Toucey, which I here insert: 

WASHINGTON, January 29, 1861-Received at Pensacola, 

January 29, 1861, at 9 P.M. 

To Captain JAMES GLYNN, commanding the Macedonian; 
Captain W. S. WALKER, commanding -the Brooklyn, or 
other naval officers in command; and Lieutenant ADAM J. 
SLEMMER, First regiment Artillery, U. S. A., commanding 
Fort Pickens. 

Fart Pickens 101 

In consequence of the assurances received from Mr. Mai- 
lory, in a telegram of yesterday to Messrs, Bigler, Hunter, and 
Slidell, with a request that it should be laid before the 
President, that Fort Pickens would not be assaulted, and an 
offer of such an assurance to the same effect from Colonel 
Chase, for the purpose of avoiding a hostile collision, upon 
receiving satisfactory assurances from Mr. Mallory and 
Colonel Chase that Fort Pickens will not be attacked, you 
are instructed not to land the company on board the Brook 
lyn, unless said fort shall be attacked or preparations shall 
be made for its attack. The provisions necessary for the 
supply of the fort you will land. The Brooklyn and the 
other vessels of war on the station will remain, and you will 
exercise the utmost vigilance, and be prepared at a moment s 
warning to land the company at Fort Pickens, and you and 
they will instantly repel any attack on the fort. 

The President yesterday sent a special message to Con 
gress, commending the Virginia resolutions of compromise. 
The commissioners of different States are to meet here on 
Monday, the 4th of February, and it is important that dur 
ing their session a collision of arms should be avoided, unless 
an attack should be made or there should be preparations 
for such an attack. In either event the Brooklyn and the other 
vessels will act promptly. Your right and that of the other 
officers in command at Pensacola freely to communicate 
with the Government by special messenger, and its right, in 
the same manner, to communicate with yourselves and them, 
will remain intact, as the basis of the present instructions. 

J. HOLT, Secretary of War. 

I. TOUCEY, Secretary of the Navy. 

The construction which Captain Adams put upon what he 
calls the "engagement made by Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase 
with the United States Government," and which restrained him 
for weeks from landing troops, will be seen by the following ex 
tract from a letter written by him under date of the 18th of 
March, and sent by Lieutenant Gwathmey: 

The officers and men, as I mentioned in my letter of Feb 
ruary 19, are kept in readiness to land at the shortest no- 

102 Civil War and Reconstruction 

dec; but I have received the assurances of General Bragg, 
who commands the troops on shore, that he will respect the 
engagement made by Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase with 
the United States Government, and will make no disposition 
for the attack of Fort Pickens. This engagement, you are 
aware, binds us not to reinforce Fort Pickens unless it is at 
tacked or threatened. I could easily have thrown any number 
of men in it almost any time within the last four weeks. 

This communication, written on the 18th of March, Captain 
Adams would not trust to the mails, but withheld for other con 
veyance; opportunities, however, were rare, and hence the delay 
in its reception. 

Such, was the first reinforcement of Fort Pickens. The gar 
rison, which, under Lieutenant Slemmer, consisted of only 8& 
men, was increased to 284 on the 12th of April by a company 
of artillery and a battalion of marines. Additional troops and 
abundant supplies arrived a few days later under the command 
of Colonel (now Brevet Major-General) Harvey Brown; but 
Pickens would probably have passed into rebel hands ere the 
last expedition reached Pensacola had not the timely mission 
of Lieutenant (now Commodore) Worden caused the reinforce 
ment from, the squadron on the 12th of April. 

The second reinforcement of Pickens was by a secret irregu 
lar military expedition initiated under the auspices of the Secre 
tary of State, without the knowledge of the Secretary of War. 
By law and usage the duty of fitting out such a military expedi 
tion devolved on the Secretary of War; but in this instance that 
functionary was, for some unexplained cause, studiously exclud 
ed from all participation in or knowledge of the important move 
ment which was carried forward within the Department of which 
he was chief and from the appropriations with which he was 
intrusted. There was doubtless a reason or purpose for this ex 
traordinary proceeding, and also why the Secretary of State 
withheld from every member of the Cabinet all knowledge of 
the transaction. It may have been an exhibition of great execu 
tive and administrative skill and ability on the part of the Secre 
tary of State; it may have demonstrated that if the Secretary of 

Fort Pickms 103 

the Treasury could, through the instrumentality of an officer 
of the army and an officer of the navy attached to the Treasury 
Department, prompt military movements, the Secretary of State 
could also institute by means of an army and naval officer a still 
more formidable expedition; or there may have been other rea 
sons and influences for a step that has no parallel. It is without 
precedent and without imitation. The President himself had 
only indefinite general information that such a project was 
maturing. General Meigs, who was the special confidant of the 
Secretary of State, selected by him to plan the expedition, says 
it "originated with Mr. Seward/ The first intimation which I 
received of this irregular proceeding, I obtained at midnight on 
the 6th of April, when endeavoring to clear up the confusion 
and difficulty occasioned by conflicting orders. I then learned 
to my astonishment of this secret enterprise, and that the steamer 
Powhatan, the flag-ship of an expedition which was ordered to 
relieve Fort Sumter, had been surreptitiously withdrawn from 
that duty, and that her legitimate commander, Captain Mercer, 
was deprived of his ship, which was transferred to Lieutenant 
D. D. Porter, who was to proceed with her to Pensacola. A large 
portion of the home squadron was at the time lying off that 
harbor with troops which had not been landed. Additional 
supplies and men from the army were appropriate, for they 
would be wanted; but there was no necessity for the Powhatan to 
be added to the squadron in the Gulf. She was indispensable for 
the Sumter expedition. The President, so soon as he understood 
the condition of things, ordered the restoration of the Powhatan 
to Captain Mercer, and that there should be no interference with 
or interruption of measures taken in regard to Sumter. His 
orders, however, were not effective. A brief telegram of Mr. 
Seward to Lieutenant Porter was disregarded by that officer, who 
hastened his departure to Pensacola, carrying off the boats, 
supplies, and men which had been prepared and were destined 
for the relief of Sumter. The result proved that while the supplies 
were opportune, there was no reason why the Secretary of State 
should have taken upon himself the duties of another Depart 
ment, or why the Secretary of War, whose duty it was to furnish 
the supplies, should have been kept in ignorance of the enter- 

104 Civil War and Reconstruction 

prise, or not have ordered the expedition. The mission of the 
Powhatan was ill-conceived and ill-advised. The purpose for 
which she was taken was a total failure. She accomplished no 
one thing specified as an object, intent, or excuse for sending 
her to Pensacola. She did not arrive off the harbor until five 
days after Pickens had been reinforced by Vogdes and the marines. 
The transport Atlantic, having Colonel Brown on board, with 
troop and supplies, reached her destination on the 16th of April; 
the Powhatan did not arrive until the 17th. Colonel Brown, with 
out awaiting the arrival of Lieutenant Porter and the Powhatan, 
was, with his force, promptly landed by the boats of Captains 
Adams and Poor, and the fort was again relieved and reinforced 
before Lieutenant Porter made his appearance on the 17th with 
the Powhatan, having on board the launches and men destined 
for Sumter. 

The detachment of this vessel from the squadron to which 
she had been ordered without the knowledge of any one con 
nected with the Navy Department, led to no little confusion and 
was the cause of very serious embarrassment. She was the most 
important of the few vessels in commission in all our Atlantic 
ports at that period; but the Government was by these surrepti 
tious and irregular proceedings deprived of her services at Charles 
ton and at Norfolk at a critical juncture. General Meigs, who was 
the special confidant of the Secretary of State in this matter, and 
was taken by him to the President as a counsellor and adviser, 
when his Cabinet associates were treated as not trustworthy, has 
written two communications on the subject. It appears to him, 
he says, that it was "within the prerogative of the Commander- 
in-Chief of the Army and Navy" to take such a vessel and desig 
nate its commander; and the whole irregular expedition in 
which he so actively participated seems in his view proper. Had 
the Secretary of War by any connivance secretly negotiated a 
treaty with a foreign power without the knowledge of the Secre 
tary of State, or of any member of the Cabinet, aided by a dis 
trict attorney and a consul to advise the President, General 
Meigs might have defended such negotiation also, and said, as 
he now does, that it was within the prerogative of the Chief 
Magistrate. He forgets, however, that the President, so soon as 

fart Pickens 105 

he learned the facts In the case of the Powhatan, claimed no 
such prerogative, but directed the Secretary of State to order 
the Immediate restoration of that vessel to her legitimate com 
mander and to her designated duty. The President never in 
tended to Interfere with and secretly countermand the orders 
of one of the Departments, and he promptly directed a correction 
of the proceeding which the Quartermaster-General tries to 

It has not been my purpose, In bringing to light certain truths 
connected with the destruction of the Norfolk Navy-yard, and the 
expeditions to Sumter and to Pickens at the commencement of 
the war, to make charges or prefer accusations against any one, 
nor to criticise the military plans and operations in those cases. 
Statements of facts may in some instances be considered un 
pleasant disclosures, but they are not to be classed as charges 
and accusations. Truth in these matters should no longer be sup 
pressed or perverted; and if in any respect I am in error, I shall 
be glad to be corrected. There are records and living witnesses 
to sustain or controvert my statements. 

General Meigs, at that time a Captain of Engineers, planned 
the military part of the irregular expedition to Pensacola which 
Colonel (since Brevet-Major General) Harvey Brown was as 
signed to command. In the two letters which he has published 
on the subject of the relief of Fort Pickens, General Meigs 
wholly ignores the reinforcement from the squadron on the 12th 
of April, four days before he or any connected with that ex 
pedition arrived in sight of the "sand-hills of Pensacola/ and 
five days before the Powhatan reached that station. Although 
confessedly uninformed on many points with which his advice 
and movements interfered, and to that extent perhaps excusable, 
he could not have been ignorant of the fact that Vogdes s com 
pany of artillery and the marines from the navy had been thrown 
into the the fort, and the garrison reinforced, before his arrival. 
He makes no allusion to it, however, but takes to himself and 
the Secretary of State the exclusive and entire credit of first 
reinforcing Fort Pickens. 

The following extracts are from the first statement or nar 
rative of General Meigs: 

106 Civil War and Reconstruction 

WASHINGTON, Thursday, Sept. 14, 1865. 

My first interview with the President and the Secretary 
of State in relation to the matter was on the evening of the 
29th of March. The President did not inform me that he 
intended to relieve Fort Sumter, but questioned me as to 
the possibility of doing it. I advised him in general terms 
that I could find him plenty of officers of the navy willing 
to try it. He then asked me whether I thought Fort Pickens 
could be reinforced. I replied that it could be, provided the 
relieving force reached there before it fell, and with the 
maps before us the mode of effecting this object was dis 
cussed. I advised that if the attempt was made, a fleet 
steamer under a young and enterprising officer should be 
despatched immediately to run the batteries, enter the har 
bor, and prevent any expedition of Bragg s crossing the 
harbor in boats to assault Fort Pickens. The President said 
he would see me again, if he concluded to go further in 
the matter. 

I myself suggested to the President the name of the Pow- 
hataii and of her commander, and prepared the orders in 
relation to the movement for his signature; and this I did 
on the 31st of March or 1st of April, three or four days 
before the Sumter expedition was resolved upon. 

In conclusion, permit me to remark that this, the first 
successful military expedition of the war, originated with 
Mr, Seward. Until it sailed, the United States had declined 
everywhere. Fortresses and harbors had been lost. He carried 
me to the President, merely saying that he thought the 
President ought to see some of the younger officers, and not 
consult only with men who, if war broke out, could not 
mount a horse. 

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

M. C. MEIGS, Brevet Major-General, 
late Captain of Engineers. 

Fort Pickens 107 

Of the expediency and the necessity of early additional troops 
and supplies for Fort Pickens, over and above those which were 
landed from the squadron on the 1 2th of April, under the orders 
which the Secretary of the Navy sent out by Lieutenant Worden, 
there is no< question. The rebels, checked from their first in 
tended attack by that timely reinforcement, began soon after 
to assemble additional troops for a more formidable assault. 
Colonel Brown arrived on the 16th with this increased force. 
Promptly on his arrival he landed his troops, and at once set 
aside the advice which Captain Meigs had given the President, 
"with the maps" before them, that "a fleet steamer under a 
young and enterprising officer should run the batteries, enter 
the harbor/ etc. The steamer was wanted for no such purpose. 
Lieutenant Porter had been given Captain Mercer s vessel to 
run the batteries; but this "young and enterprising officer" 
never ran them. The Powhatan was, by Captain Meigs s plan and 
advice to the President, to have entered the harbor of Pensacola; 
but she never entered it nor attempted to enter it. So that the 
secret interference with naval arrangements, and the orders of 
the Government by which the Sumter expedition was deprived 
of its flag-ship, accomplished no other end than to render that 
expedition abortive without effecting the alleged purpose for 
which she was sent to Pickens. 

The best comment on the plan and advice of Captain Meigs 
will be found in the following extracts from a communication 
of Brevet Major-General Brown in 1867: 

The troops on board the Atlantic arrived off Pensacola 
on the evening of the 16th of April. The Powhatan did not 
arrive until about noon of the 17th. The commanding 
officer and a portion of his command were landed by the 
boats of Captains Adams and Poor immediately after their 
arrival, and the fort was relieved about two o clock on the 
morning of the 17th, several hours before Captain Porter 
made his appearance. General Meigs did intercept Porter 
and did prevent his entering, but not because he wished 
him to cover the landing, for all the infantry and a part of 
the horses of the battery were landed before Porter s arrival, 

108 Civil War and Reconstruction 

by the zealous cooperation and able assistance of Captains 
Adams and Poor, who commanded the ships of war there. 

Now, I frankly assert that Captain Porter could not have 
entered Pensacola harbor at that time; that the attempt 
would have been followed by the certain destruction of the 
vessel, the probable loss of the crew, and the jeoparding the 
safety of Fort Pickens; and that if he could have entered, 
no valuable results would have followed. He would only 
have entered into a trap in which he could not stay, and 
from which he could not extricate himself or be extricated. 

Captain Porter remained at anchor off the fort for several 
weeks, and had full opportunity and facility for ascertaining 
the correctness of my statement of its condition and wants. 
He did not enter or make any attempt to enter the harbor, 
and never afterwards communicated to me a desire or pur 
pose to do so. 

HARVEY BROWN, Brevet Major-General U. S. A. 

These extracts, and the course pursued by General Brown 
in his defence of Pickens, demonstrate the value of the naval 
part in the plan, and of the advice given by the engineer whom 
the Secretary of State "carried to the President," with the re 
mark that "he ought to see some of the younger officers, and 
not consult only with men who, if war broke out, could not 
mount a horse/ 

In advising that the Powhatan should be taken from the 
control of the Navy Department, General Meigs pleads ignorance 
of her legitimate orders. It is his justification. For the ill-advised 
and abandoned project of running the batteries, perhaps the 
same plea should be interposed. He did not then know that it 
was, as General Brown demonstrates, an impossibility. In his 
two studied communications, he makes no mention of the entire 
failure of the naval part of the plan which he so unfortunately 
advised. It has been, and is, my object to make public facts in 

Fort Pickens 109 

relation to certain transactions which have been but imperfectly 
understood, no matter who is affected. Whether it was I or others 
who extracted from the President orders in relation to a naval 
vessel which I had in the performance of my duty put in com 
mission, of which I had charge, and her record in my keeping; 
whether I or others deceived the President, intrigued to defeat 
the Sumter expedition, are matters of which men will form a 
correct judgment when in possession of the facts, which have 
been hitherto perverted or suppressed. No right-minded person 
will construe the publication of truth into an accusation against 
any one. 

There is no denying the fact that an important vessel was at 
a critical period surreptitiously withdrawn from her destination 
and deprived of her legitimate commander by an order extracted 
from the President. That the President was deceived in this 
matter by some one, unintentionally or otherwise, there is no 
doubt; for as soon as he was made acquainted with the true state 
of the case he countermanded the order which had been extracted 
from him, and directed the restoration of the vessel to Mercer. 
Now who extracted the order, who deceived the President, and 
what was the object, are matters in issue on which the Quarter 
master-General volunteers an opinion, pronounces a judgment, 
and makes accusations. I merely give the facts and, so far as I 
know them, the actors. 

The Powhatan, instead of going to Charleston and then 
returning North, as was ordered, where, in the then feeble con 
dition of the navy, she could have rendered valuable service, 
especially at Norfolk, was diverted to a quarter where she was 
not needed. Without the knowledge of the Secretary of the 
Navy and against the final express order of the President, she 
was sent on a useless mission, ostensibly to perform a service that 
she did not and could not execute. In this there was error, 
irregularity perhaps worseon the part of some one or more. 
I for years, in the then condition of affairs, bore the blame and 
responsibility of these errors and failures, for which others, whose 
secret operations defeated my measures, were justly accountable. 
A faithful exposition, now that the condition of the country is 
changed, is excepted to by one of the principal actors. 

110 Civil War and Reconstruction 

In neither of his publications does General Meigs attempt 
any explanation of the unwarrantable and inexcusable attempt 
to thrust Captain Barron, a well-known secessionist, into the 
Navy Department, and into intimate and confidential relations 
with the head of that Department without consulting him. 
General Meigs declares that "the overt act of interference with 
the navy most complained of" is the matter of the Powhatan. 
This is a serious mistake. Highly improper as was that inter 
ference, it is vastly less exceptionable and reprehensible than 
the executive order to create a new naval bureau and make 
Barron chief, which was at the same time and by the same parties 
extracted from the President. Was Captain Meigs, in whose hand 
writing this mysterious order first appeared detailing Barron for 
Department duty, the author of this intrigue? Was Lieutenant 
D. D. Porter, who wrote the remarkable postscript to that re 
markable order directing the Secretary of the Navy to establish 
a new bureau and do other illegal acts, guilty of that impropriety, 
disrespect, and interference with his superior? Or was there some 
one else who attempted thus to interfere with the organization 
of the Navy Department, and to place a rebel captain in a posi 
tion for "detailing all officers for duty/* whereby the most im 
portant commands could be given to rebels; "supervising charges 
made against officers," which would enable rebel officers to 
escape conviction and punishment? This interference with the 
organization and administration of the Navy Department was 
attempted by some one. General Meigs would brush it over; says 
he has "no distinct recollection" of this order and postscript, 
which was published in THE GALAXY for November; that "of 
details within the Navy Department, such as are referred to in 
the postscript in regard to Captain Barron, he had no knowledge, 
and upon them could not have given advice." Nevertheless, this 
strange document an executive order, creating without author 
ity of law a new bureau in the Navy Department; placing a 
rebel captain in charge of its operations, empowering him to 
detail all officers for duty, to supervise charges made against 
officers, etc., was written by himself and Lieutenant Porter a 
joint labor and a divided responsibility. Whether they originated 
the measure or were the mere instruments of others, has never 

Pickens III 

been disclosed. Until recently this mysterious transaction was 
not made public. The order, with others, was extracted from the 
President, who reposed confidence in those who submitted at 
the same time a multitude of orders and matters in detail for 
his signature; but this one was promptly disavowed and annulled 
by him when he knew its character and purport. Some person 
originated this scheme to change the organization of the Navy 
Department. It was done by the same parties who extracted the 
order in relation to the Powhatan, was done at the same time 
and place, was in the handwriting of two of them, and reached 
me under the same envelope with other documents of that date. 
But who was the author? 

For the part taken by General, at that time Captain Meigs 
in these transactions he should not perhaps in all respects be held 
to a strict accountability. He was acting under orders, was unin 
formed in regard to measures of Administration that were then 
in progress of fulfilment, and the order which he wrote and 
the President signed was evidently penned under dictation. Of 
that part which related to the assignment of Captain Stringham,. 
he says he has "no distinct recollection," and he of course knew 
nothing of "the complications at Vera Cruz," to which he alludes. 
When in his recent letter he says his "recommendation to the 
President originated in a desire to break the toils in which by 
such a convention a former Administration involved the squadron 
at Pensacola and Fort Pickens," he forgets that his recommenda 
tion was on the 29th of March or 1st of April, and that neither 
the President nor any member of the Cabinet knew of any "toils 
which involved the squadron at Pensacola" until the arrival of 
Lieutenant Gwathmey, on the 6th of April, with despatches from 
Captain Adams. It was never doubted by the President or the 
members of the Administration, nor by General Scott, that the 
order of the latter to Captain Vogdes, on the 12th of March, to 
land his command, was carried into effect, and that Pickens was 
to that extent reinforced, until a week after Captain Meigs had 
made his recommendation and given his advice for a steamer 
to run the batteries of McRae and Barrancas. 

The position of Lieutenant Porter when off Pensacola was, 
doubtless awkward and embarrassing. He had special instruc- 

112 Civil War and Reconstruction 

lions, written by an engineer, under the direction of the Secre 
tary of State, to perform a duty which it was impossible for him 
to execute. Having an independent command, his vessel was 
not legitimately on the station. The senior officer had no in 
structions in relation to him or the Powhatan, did not recognize 
him or receive his reports, or forward them to the Department. 
He was not in communication with the Secretary of the Navy, 
whose orders he had broken, taken from under his control a 
vessel which had been duly commissioned, and displaced her 
commander, who was his superior. His orders were explicit to 
enter the harbor. That alone was the purpose for which he had 
been detailed, but that service he could not render. He, there 
fore, was lying off Pensacola, but was not one of the squadron. 
He had no authority to go or remain. He was isolated, discon 
nected with the Navy Department and the naval service. In this 
dilemma he wrote letters to the Secretary of State, who knew 
not what to do with him or his letters, for naval records were 
not kept in the State Department; instructions to naval officers 
did not emanate from it, nor was the Secretary of State in a con 
dition to send supplies to this independent command which he 
had caused to be created. 

Feeling his embarrassment, the Secretary of State at length 
passed over to me Lieutenant Porter s letters and requested 
me to relieve them both from the difficulty in which they 
were involved. As the steamer and officer had been irregu 
larly withdrawn from the custody and control of the Navy De 
partment, I required she should be duly restored. This was done 
by the President s order, and on the 13th of May I sent instruc 
tions to Lieutenant that the Powhatan would, until other orders, 
constitute a part of the Gulf Blockading Squadron, and directed 
him to report to the senior officer off Pensacola. 

There having been no report received in relation to this 
vessel for a number of weeks the Department ascertained from 
her log book the records of tthe dates and duty during the interim 
while she was away on the irregular and abortive pretext or 
project of running the batteries and entering the harbor of 

In conclusion I may be permitted to say that in what I have 

Fort Pickens 113 

written I have endeavored to forbear the mere expression of 
opinion, but have not hesitated to state the truth in regard to 
men and measures, although in doing so I may in some instances 
have given offence to individuals with whom I have been inti 
mate and for whom I have personal regard and friendship. The 
three papers which THE GALAXY has published in relation to 
events connected with Norfolk, Sumter, and Pickens have brought 
to light incidents, naval, military, and civil, which occurred in 
the month of April, 1861-a month pregnant with facts of un 
surpassed interest in American history. 


Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 


The capture of New Orleans by Admiral Farragut in 
1862 was one of the Union s most spectacular victories. 
To counteract widely current impressions that the army 
under General Benjamin F. Butler had more to do with 
this success than the navy under Farragut, Welles wrote 
the following two articles. Emphasizing the leading role 
of the navy in all amphibious operations up to 1862, 
he discusses the details of the planning and prepara 
tions for the assault on the Crescent City. The accuracy 
of his version is generally acknowledged today. 


A HE REBELLION which commenced in the spring of 1861, 
though long threatened, found the country almost wholly un 
prepared for the conflict. Few in the Free States could be made 
to believe there would be an appeal to arms for the alleged or 
real grievances of which certain impassioned leaders complained. 
There had been severe party strife for years, threats to nullify 
or resist Federal laws, which gradually assumed a sectional char 
acter; but the real differences or causes of difference were not 
such as to lead necessarily to hostilities, had not war or the 
subversion of the Government been the design of some of the 
ambitious and trusted men in high official position. 

But while almost the whole of the people of the Northern 
States were disbelievers in any civil war, a very different con- 

Tke Galaxy, XII (November, 1871). 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 115 

dition of things existed at the South. There the apprehensions 
were serious and almost universal that a fierce struggle was to 
take place. A majority of the people in nearly every State were 
opposed to armed resistance to the Government, and opposed 
to any scheme for dissolving the Union. Yet they had been 
persuaded, and actually believed, that they were greatly wronged 
and oppressed by Federal legislation. But their opposition to 
violent measures was tame and negative from the very fact that 
there was no substantial cause for complaint, while the decisive 
element was mischievous, positive, energetic, and belligerent. The 
secession or disunion party had by activity and vigilance obtained 
possession of the State governments through the South in 1860, 
and made extensive preparations to resist the General Govern 

The election of Abraham Lincoln, brought about by the 
secession leaders who had deliberately and designedly broken up 
the Democratic organization, was made the pretext for seceding 
from the Union. As soon as the result of the election in 1860 
was known, before any action had been taken, and while the 
Democratic party had the President and a majority of Congress, 
the State of South Carolina took instant measures for dissolving 
her connection with the Federal Government. This extraordinary 
and revolutionary movement, unprovoked and uncalled for by 
any serious grievance or aggressive action of the Federal Gov 
ernment, was followed by other States. Members of Congress 
with dramatic ostentation and parade resigned their seats and 
left Washington. Scenes similar to those, but not carried to so 
great length, had previously occurred, and the Administration 
and others from the North appear to have viewed these pro 
ceedings, now as then, as an excess of party bitterness which 
would exhaust itself in words. No effective measures were taken 
to counteract them and strengthen the Government. 

When, therefore, Congress adjourned and the change of ad 
ministration took place on the 4th of March, 1861, the new 
incumbents found the Government wholly unprepared by any 
extra-legislative authority or preparation to maintain itself 
against the formidable combination that had so long been 
maturing schemes for its destruction. The Navy Department 

116 Civil War and Reconstruction 

was perhaps in the most feeble and deplorable condition of any 
branch of the Government for the emergency without vessels, 
or armament, or men, and without legal authority to increase 
or strengthen either. 

A blockade of three thousand five hundred miles in length, 
greater in extent than the whole coast of Europe from Cape 
Trafalgar to Cape North, was ordered in April; and as we had 
not vessels, guns, or men for such a work, a navy had to be im 
provised to enforce it. Ships in the merchant service which could 
be made available were forthwith procured, guns were manu 
factured, men were enlisted, and the whole resources of the 
country were put in immediate requisition to meet the crisis. 
But although the energies and abilities of the nation were taxed 
and called out with wonderful and unexampled rapidity, they 
did not satisfy the impatience of the people, who had been 
taught, and were willing to believe, the rebellion could be 
suppressed and peace be restored in ninety days. 

The Government discharged as it best could with the limited 
means at its disposal the new and extraordinary duties which, 
in addition to ordinary current affairs, devolved upon it. The 
change of administration involved in some respects a change of 
policy and of men in the civil service. The President and Cabinet 
were inexperienced in their new positions, and entitled to en 
couragement and support even had the times been propitious. 
Coming from old opposing parties, their political principles were 
not in all respects homogeneous. Little time was given them, 
however, for concert and concentration before war intestine war, 
the worst and most to be deplored of all conflicts was precipi 
tated upon the country. 

The first call for seventy-five thousand men to serve for three 
months seems, since the experience we have had through four 
eventful years with a million of men under arms, to have been 
insignificant in numbers and ridiculous in time for the suppres 
sion of that formidable rebellion, which shook the continent, 
shattered the framework of the Government, and taxed the 
energies of the nation; but without any previous preparation the 
call embraced as many as the country could readily arm, equip, 
supply, and organize; and few then believed we were to have a 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 117 

protracted war. Little, comparatively, was attempted, and but 
little was accomplished at the beginning. The rebels, having 
resistance in view, were better prepared than the Government for 
the conflict. Reverses to the Union cause followed, with murmurs 
and general dissatisfaction because the Administration was ap 
parently so dilatory and inefficient in its movements, and be 
cause our undisciplined troops were not invincible and ir 

Time was necessary to equip our few naval vessels; to procure 
and to prepare the purchased and chartered steamers for naval 
service; to recall our foreign squadrons; to manufacture ordnance, 
to get supplies, and to enlist seamen. No allowance was made 
for these things by the inconsiderate and unthinking, who, under 
the impression that vessels were ready and equipped, and crews 
enlisted and trained, were loud in their complaints of the inef 
ficiency of the navy and the Navy Department. But those who 
were intelligent and informed on the subject, instead of com 
plaining, were amazed that so much in so brief a period was 
accomplished. The rebels felt and acknowledged it. A joint 
Committee of the Confederate Congress, "appointed to investi 
gate the administration of the Navy Department" of the in 
surgents, in their report apologizing for the disasters which had 
overwhelmed and annihilated their navy, dwell on the energy 
and power which they had encountered. They say: "The vast 
naval resources, great commercial school for seamen, numerous 
artisans, and vast workshops enabled him to augment this 
formidable force with a rapidity unequalled in naval history, 
while the naval resources of the world were open to him. It 
would have required many years, even under the most favorable 
circumstances, for us to have built and equipped as many and 
such vessels as the enemy began the war with." 

Admiral Du Pont, writing from Port Royal July, 1862, said 
to a friend: "1 do not hesitate to say that nothing has ever 
come up to the energy of the Navy Department in any country. 
The improvised navy for which Mr. Welles was so abused, and 
which in my judgment saved us a foreign war by preventing the 
blockade from being broken by the English and French, are 
among its great deeds." 

118 Civil War and Reconstruotion 

While most persons anticipated a speedy suppression of the 
insurrection and the restoration of harmony and peace, the 
Secretary of the Navy came to a different conclusion. He saw 
that this was no mere impulsive outbreak. The retiring Ad 
ministration, without being specially committed to the secession 
movement, had studiously abstained from the exercise of any 
authority to prevent or suppress it. It had placed no garrisons 
in the forts of the South, though the local authorities were 
organizing actively for armed resistance to Federal laws. Were 
the new Administration to attempt to send troops or supplies, 
which was anticipated and expected by the secessionists and 
their sympathizers, the movement would be denounced and re 
sisted as just cause of offence. This was made manifest when 
the Administration in pursuance of its duty endeavored to send 
provisions to the small garrison in Sumter. That peaceful at 
tempt of the Government to discharge its duty was made the 
pretext for an assault on the fortress and the flag. 

While the retiring Federal Administration had done nothing 
toward maintaining the national authority in the insurrectionary 
region, the State governments which were in the hands and under 
the control of the secessionists had been able to organize power 
ful laws to obstruct and break down the Federal Union. Their 
proceedings had been deliberate, and so extensive and powerful, 
and Congress had left the Federal Government so wholly unpre 
pared for the conflict, that the Secretary of the Navy was con 
vinced the struggle would be severe, and that the duration of 
the war would extend far beyond the three months for which 
the troops had been ordered out. He took his measures ac 
cordingly. Without specific legal authority, he proceeded not 
only to buy and charter merchant steamers, but he assumed the 
responsibility of immediately ordering, without law and with 
out appropriations, the construction of over thirty naval steamers, 
none of which could be completed within six months from the 
attack on Sumter and long after the terms of the 75,000 men had 
expired, which many supposed would close the insurrection. It 
is not necessary to speculate on what would have been said and 
done had the insurrection been suppressed within ninety days, 
with this large increase of our naval force and immense ex- 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 119 

penditure. As it was, the first business movement on the first 
day of the extra session, before even the message of the Presi 
dent had been received stating the object for convening Congress, 
was the introduction of a resolution by the then Chairman of 
the Naval Committee of the Senate, inquiring by what authority 
and at what rates the Secretary of the Navy had increased his 
expenditures and made contracts and purchases for the navy. 

At home and abroad the blockade was pronounced an im 
possibility; but the Navy Department put forth all its energies 
to establish and make it effective. There were soon employed 
in the various navy and private ship yards, foundries, and ma 
chine shops a force of not less than twenty thousand mechanics 
and workmen, exclusive of seamen enlisted in the service. As 
soon as a small force was placed before the principal ports to 
cut off traffic with the rebel States, the Navy Department com 
menced projecting expeditions on the coast. The first of these 
was for the capture of the batteries which the rebels had con 
structed at Hatteras Inlet, from which point they were sending 
out small marauding craft to capture vessels engaged in trade 
which approached the North Carolina coast. Preparations for the 
Hatteras expedition, an enterprise which originated in and was 
put in operation by the Navy Department, were begun in July. 
General Scott, who was consulted, and of whom military co 
operation was asked, consented to spare troops from Fortress 
Monroe to accompany the expedition when the navy was ready, 
provided the detachment was not detained after the result, what 
ever that might be. On the 9th of August I wrote Flag Officer 
Stringham in relation to the Hatteras expedition, that "in order 
to take the batteries to which you allude, General Scott assures 
me he will authorize General Butler to detail a military force 
to accompany the expedition/ 1 When this assurance was given 
General B. F. Butler was in command at Fortress Monroe; but 
on the 13th of August, four days after, General Wool was 
ordered to relieve him, which he did on the 19th of August. 
The order which General Scott promised on the 9th to issue to 
General Butler was promptly given when required to General 
Wool, but still on condition and with an express understanding 
that the troops should return to Fortress Monroe, and not re- 

120 Civil War and Reconstruction 

main at the inlet to garrison the forts. General Butler, relieved 
by General Wool, sought and was assigned to command the 900 
men that were detailed to accompany the navy, and embarked 
with Flag Officer Stringham in the Minnesota, which sailed 
from Hampton Roads on the 26th of August 

The success at Hatteras, the first naval expedition, and it may 
be said perhaps the first substantial victory of the war, was fol 
lowed by the more important expedition to Port Royal under 
Admiral Du Pont. In this expedition the cooperating military 
force was commanded by General Thomas W. Sherman. Both 
of these expeditions originated in the Navy Department. They 
were quietly planned, and matured with a secrecy unknown to 
the military operations of that period. Hence probably the cor 
respondents and writers of the day, who usually obtained their 
first information of events through the War Department or from 
army officers, misstated and gave erroneous accounts of these and 
other expeditions, and awarded not unfrequently credit to mili 
tary officers which strictly belonged to naval commanders. Naval 
officers were invariably prohibited from giving information of 
naval movements for publication, and newspaper correspon 
dents, always inquisitive and generally intelligent, were for this 
reason carefully excluded from the expeditions, and as far as 
possible from all knowledge in regard to naval operations. This 
rigid and restrictive policy of the navy was in such marked con 
trast to that of the military, where correspondents were general 
ly welcomed and often furnished with every facility to obtain 
and publish army operations, was unsatisfactory, led to much 
misrepresentation of the Navy Department, and sometimes to 
gross injustice to the navy. Many of the perverted statements 
which had their origin in pique toward those who excluded, 
and favor toward those who received and encouraged them in 
their efforts to be the first to lay before the public news which 
all desired to know, but which it was impolitic and often in 
jurious to publish, have gone into the histories which, hastily 
got up, were afterward without examination adopted as authen 
tic Nearly every one of these histories passes over the naval com 
mander or represents him as a subordinate attached to a military 
enterprise. They speak, not of Flag Officer Stringham s expedi- 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 121 

tion, but of "General Butler s expedition to Hatteras." Some of 
them assume that the expedition originated with and was 
achieved by him, when he merely went under orders with two 
battalions which were sent in compliance with a request made 
by the Navy Department for troops to assist Flag Officer String- 
ham, the naval commander, in a naval expedition of which he 
knew nothing until he received orders from General Scott direct 
ing him to aid and cooperate in a naval enterprise. 

The preliminary arrangements for the expedition which re 
sulted in the capture of Port Royal, a more important and more 
elaborate undertaking, were commenced really before those of 
Hatteras. As early as the 25th of June a board was convened in 
the Navy Department, composed of Captain, afterward Rear- 
Admiral S. F. Du Pont, Professor A. D. Bache, Chief of the Coast 
Survey, with whom the Secretary of War associated, by special 
request, Major, subsequently General J. G. Barnard of the Corps 
of Engineers. Later, Commander, now Rear-Admiral Charles 
H. Davis, who officiated as secretary, was added to this board. 

The object and purpose of the Navy Department in conven 
ing this board, and the date when the expedition under Flag 
Officer Du Pont was first contemplated, will be best understood 
by publishing the original order, which was on the 25th of June, 
only two months after the proclamation of blockade had been 
issued and before it had been made absolutely efficient at all 


NAVY DEPARTMENT, June 25, 1861. 
Captain S. F. Du PONT and Prof. A. D. BACHE, Board, etc. 


The Navy Department is desirous to condense all the 
information in the archives of the Government which may 
be considered useful to the blockading squadrons, and the 
Board are therefore requested to prepare such matter as 
in their judgment may seem necessary; first, extending from 
the Chesapeake to Key West; secondly, from Key West to 
the extreme southern point of Texas. It is imperative that 
two or more points should be taken possession of on the 
Atlantic coast, and Fernandina and Port Royal are spoken 

122 Civil War and Reconstruction 

o Perhaps others will occur to the Board. All facts bearing 
upon such contemplated movement are desired at an early 
moment. Subsequently similar points in the Gulf of Mexico 
will be considered. It is also very desirable that the practi 
cability of closing all the Southern ports by mechanical 
means should be fully discussed and reported upon. 

Very respectfully, etc., 


On the 18th of September a division of the Atlantic squadron 
took place. Captain Du Pont was appointed commander of the 
South Atlantic blockading squadron. On the 12th of October he 
received final orders, and sailed on the 29th. 

In his final instructions, which were strictly confidential, 
BulFs Bay, St. Helena, Port Royal, and Fernandina were named 
as accessible and desirable points; but the preference of the 
Department for Port Royal was not put in writing, lest it might 
by some means become public and the rebels put on their guard. 
The views of the Department in favor of Port Royal were made 
known to Flag Officer Du Pont in conversation, but the opinions 
of that officer did not at first coincide with those of the De 
partment. His choice was Bull s Bay, from an apprehension that 
Port Royal was too strongly fortified and that he could not get 
his flag-ship, the Wabash, over the bar. But he came into the 
measure at the last moment having been finally persuaded, as 
he afterward admitted, by the Assistant Secretary, who visited 
New York for that purpose before he sailed; and he frankly 
said after the result, that to have gone to Bull s Bay, which was 
his design, would have been an error. The destination was, how 
ever, left indefinite in his orders, and his conclusions were not to 
be communicated to the commanders of the various vessels until 
they sailed, when the point of rendezvous was indicated in 
sealed orders, which were not to be opened until at sea. This un 
certainty in regard to the final destination of the squadron pre 
vented the enemy from concentrating a formidable force at Port 
Royal to resist the Union arms. 

As usual with large expeditions, the departure of Du Ponfs 
squadron was delayed, and it did not get off until the 29th of 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 123 

October. As soon as the arrangements for that enterprise were 
completed, and before the squadron left Hampton Roads, the 
attention of the Department, previously occupied, was Intently 
directed toward New Orleans, the most important place In every 
point of view in the Insurrectionary region, and the most dif 
ficult to effectually blockade. The whole country, and especially 
the great Northwest, was interested In the free and uninterrupted 
navigation of the Mississippi, the ocean outlet of the Immense 
central valley which contains within its slopes one-half the States 
and territory and is the very heart of the Union. New Orleans 
is the great depot for Its products, and Forts Jackson and St, 
Philip, which protected it, were the gates that barred ocean 
communication with the city. To gain possession of the river 
and of the city was one of the first objects which addressed itself 
to the Administration after the war opened, and was Impera 
tively demanded by the great States which were specially in 
terested. The unity of the inhabitants and States of the valley 
under one government, and the unresisted communication of its 
people through the natural and national highway which be 
longed alike to those on the upper as well as the lower Missis 
sippi, called out the combined energies of all. The Government 
sympathized with and responded to the demands that were made 
for the assertion and maintenance of this great national right 
without restriction or interruption. 

Military plans had been projected from the beginning to 
obtain control of this national thoroughfare and the city near 
its mouth; but all of these schemes contemplated a combined 
army and navy movement which should descend from Cairo 
on the upper waters of the Mississippi. The idea of a naval con 
quest of New Orleans from the Gulf was not entertained by 
the army or the Administration. When, therefore, the Navy 
Department had perfected its arrangements for the Port Royal 
expedition and given final instructions to Flag Officer Du Pont, 
it began to consider the embarrassments and difficulty of block 
ading the Mississippi Delta, and the practicability of an effective 
demonstration in the Gulf. As early as the 31st of July the De 
partment had proposed to Commodore Mervine, then in com 
mand of the blockading squadron in the Gulf, to establish and 

124 Civil War and Reconstruction 

hold a battery at or near the head of "the passes of the Missis 
sippi/* and he was authorized to take for that purpose naval 
guns that were at Tortugas, a large number having been bor 
rowed by the War Department and sent out to Fort Pickens on 
the recommendation of Captain Meigs of the Engineers, but 
never used. These guns were left exposed on the beach at Tor 

The following is an extract from the communication of the 
Department referred to: 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, July 31, 1861. 
Flag Officer WM. MERVINE, 
commanding Gulf Blockading Squadron. 


.... A large number of naval guns sent out to Fort 
Pickens have been landed at Tortugas. If you deem it 
practicable in your judgment to establish and hold a battery 
at or near the head of the passes of the Mississippi (and the 
subject is most earnestly pressed upon your immediate atten 
tion), you are authorized to take any number of these guns 
and construct such a battery. An engineer officer will 
probably be detailed by the senior army officer at your re 
quest, and laborers to assist might be hired at Key West. 
The necessity of taking measures to effectually close the 
river seems to leave no alternative but the construction of 
one or more batteries, and any expenditures to accomplish 
this will be approved by the Department. . . 

Very respectfully, etc., 


The capture of the forts and the city by a naval expedition 
from the Gulf was at that time entertained by no one, and an 
effective blockade of the numerous passes by naval vessels alone 
seamed impossible. One or more batteries above the delta was 
deemed the best, and perhaps the only effectual method of pre 
venting communication. In the mean time the rebels had in 
July taken possession of and repaired the fortifications at Ship 
Island, tea or twelve miles off the coast, and some sixty miles 
from New Orleans, about equidistant from Mobile, and one 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 125 

hundred miles from the mouth of the Mississippi. The strategic 
importance of this place was felt, and as soon as the Department 
became aware of the facts the following communication was 

addressed to Flag Officer Mervine: 


NAVY DEPARTMENT, August 23, 1861. 
commanding Gulf Blockading Squadron, 


In your despatch No. of the 22d July, you report that 
you intend to visit Ship Island. 

It has been a matter of surprise and regret that you 
should have permitted so important a position as Ship 
Island to have been fortified and retained by the insurgents. 
At this distance it is difficult to understand the reasons for 
the apparent inactivity and indifference that have governed 
in this matter. If the force under your command is not all 
that we could wish, or all that we intend it shall be, still 
it is sufficient for some demonstration, and it would be well 
to make up in activity and extra exertion for the want of 

You have large ships, heavy batteries, young and willing 
officers, with men sufficient to dispossess the insurgents from 
Ship Island. They might have been prevented entirely from 
intrenching themselves upon it. In order to have done this, 
smaller vessels would have been necessarily substituted to 
guard the passes. This, it would seem, might have been done. 

I allude to these matters, not knowing what action you 
have taken in the premises since the 22d ult. There is great 
uneasiness in the public mind, as well as anxiety in the De 
partment, on the apparent inactivity of our squadrons. 
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 


The naval preparations made in consequence of these orders 
alarmed the rebels, who during their occupation of Ship Island 
had intrenched themselves and rebuilt the fort which had been 
previously destroyed. 

126 Civil War and Reconstruction 

Captain W. W. McKean relieved Flag Officer Mervine of the 
command of the Gulf squadron in September. The works on Ship 
Island were abandoned by the rebels with some precipitation soon 
after, and on the 17th of September Commander Melancton 
Smith of the steamer Massachusetts landed a force and took pos 
session of the island. Our men proceeded to mount cannon, and 
strengthened the fort by a formidable armament of nine-inch 
Dahlgren guns and rifled cannon. Barracks were also erected 
from the materials which the rebels left on the island when they 
fled; and having in view at that early day an effective naval 
demonstration in that quarter, the island was held by the navy 
until troops could be sent to occupy it. The importance of re 
taining the island for naval operations was duly appreciated by 
the Government, and on representations from the Navy Depart 
ment a military force of 2,500 men was promised for its occupa 
tion. This force was intended to relieve the seamen from con 
fined shore duty and allow them more active service afloat. 
Some effort was required to effect this object, and circumstances 
favored the application. 

General Butler had rendered important services early in the 
war at Annapolis and Baltimore. These services were as much 
of a civil as military character, and as such were valued by the 
Administration. The leading and educated army officers, while 
they recognized the ability of General Butler as a civil magistrate, 
municipal officer, or chief of police, did not admit that his 
education, training, genius, or capacity were military, or adapted 
to his military aspirations or the postion assigned him. He had 
been relieved from command first at Baltimore and then at 
Fortress Monroe. But his brief administration at Baltimore and 
some of his acts and papers had made him popular in that 
stormy period. In order therefore that he might have command 
commensurate with his office and retain nominal military rank 
and position, he was early in the autumn, after he accompanied 
Flag Officer Stringham to Hatteras, sent to the New England 
States, which were made a distinct military department, to which 
he was assigned, with authority to raise by enlistment a force to 
serve on the coast wherever wanted. In raising these troops a 
difficulty had occurred between him and Governor Andrew of 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 127 

Massachusetts, causing additional embarrassment to the Ad 
ministration, from which it was felt all would be relieved were 
this restless officer sent to Ship Island or the far Southwest, where 
his energy, activity, and impulsive force might be employed in 
desultory aquatic and shore duty in concert with the navy. 
Many of the men to be enlisted by him would come from the 
seaboard, and a considerable portion of them were fishermen 
and mariners who could, it was said, perform such amphibious 
coast duty as might be needed at Ship Island, Beaufort, or else 
where. As this duty would be chiefly that of seconding naval 
operations acting in cooperation with and to a considerable 
extent under the direction of naval officers it was thought a 
fortunate circumstance that such an opening presented itself for 
the employment of General Butler and the regiments he was 
raising in New England. He could, as the navy had obtained pos 
session of Ship Island, be detailed with his command for duty at 
that station, and in due time elsewhere on the coast. 

In a letter to Flag Officer McKean, then in command of the 
squadron in the Gulf, that officer was informed on the 2d of 
November of this promised military force, and directed to hold 
Ship Island until its arrival: 


NAVY DEPARTMENT, November 2, 1861. 
Flag Officer W. W. MCKEAN, 
commanding Gulf Blockading Squadron. 


. . . General Butler with 2,500 men will sail for Ship 
Island about the 20th November. You will therefore hold 
possession of that island, and, if practicable, move up the 
nine-inch guns from Tortugas. . . . 

Very respectfully, etc., 


The troops did not leave as soon as was promised, and on 
the 25th of November a further communication on the same 
subject was addressed to Flag Officer McKean, from which I 
make the following extract: 

128 Civil Wax and Recomtruction 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, November 25, 186 1, 
Flag Officer WILLIAM W. MCKEAN, 
commanding Gulf Blockading Squadron, Key West, Florida, 


The Constitution sails in a few days with a force to take 
possession of Ship Island. You will, therefore, transfer to the 
senior officer in command of this force possession of all 
Government property not actually required by you for 
establishing a naval depot. You will cooperate with this 
officer in the protection of this position. . . . 

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 


The occupancy of Ship Island by the navy, and the procure 
ment of 2,500 troops for the station, were preliminary to other 
and more extensive operations which the Government had in 
view in that quarter. Representations had been made that a 
strong Union feeling existed in Texas, which only needed the 
protection and encouragement of an armed Union force to be 
fully developed. A demonstration on the coast of Texas was con 
sequently entertained. Mobile was, however, a more favored point 
with military men, in view of the combined army and navy move 
ment which was organizing to descend from the North and ob 
tain possession of the Mississippi river and ultimately of New 
Orleans. An effort in the direction of Mobile seemed a prefer 
able military movement to Galveston or any part of Texas. 
But while the attention of others, when turned to the South 
west, was divided between Texas and Mobile, the Navy De 
partment, on which devolved the duty of establishing an effective 
blockade of the coast and the interdiction of all traffic with 
New Orleans, felt the necessity of more efficient and decisive 
measures than the mere possession of outposts like Ship Island 
and the Mississippi Delta to accomplish the object. The diffi 
culty of guarding and closing the passes of the Mississippi, and 
all water communication with New Orleans, which was as dif 
ficult as the blockade of Wilmington at a later period, the escape 
of the Sumter, the disaster to the naval vessels commanded by 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 129 

Captain Pope and others, the knowledge that formidable iron 
clad vessels were being rapidly constructed at New Orleans, the 
low alluvial banks of the river, on which the army was disinclined 
to attempt to plant and erect batteries and garrison them in 
that sickly swamp, were facts keenly felt; and it seemed that a 
vigorous blow at the centre by the capture of New Orleans itself 
would be less difficult, less expensive, less exhausting, would be 
attended with less loss of life and be a more fatal blow to the 
rebels, than the most extensive, stringent, and protracted blockade 
that could possibly be established. The army movements were 
tardy and indefinite, and, regardless of the navy and the 
blockade, they began to tend toward Mobile rather than New 
Orleans, as a better objective point for military operations. These 
uncertain and vacillating military schemes convinced the Navy 
Department that it could not rely on the army to aid in enforc 
ing the blockade; that what was a primary object with the navy 
was a secondary one with the army. While, therefore, we con 
tinued to assist in the movement for descending the river, 
whatever might be its termination, we felt the necessity of pro 
jecting other and more effective and definite measures, having 
in view the capture of New Orleans and the possession of the 
lower Mississippi by a naval expedition, which should ascend 
from the Gulf. But it was not easy to convince others, and par- 
particularly military men, that such an enterprise was feasible. 
Little encouragement was received from any quarter. In general 
and desultory conversation with military and naval men and 
others, the passage of the forts and capture of New Orleans was 
spoken of as a desirable but not practicable naval undertaking. 
Yet it was noted and remembered by the Navy Department that 
our steamers had passed and repassed the batteries at Hatteras 
and Port Royal, had overcome them without serious injury to 
the vessels, and it was asked why could not the forts in the 
Mississippi be passed in like manner? There were, it is true, a 
narrow channel, a rapid, adverse current, and regularly con 
structed forts to be encountered, which might prove more for 
midable than the batteries at Hatteras and Hilton Head; but 
with steamships the propelling power of the vessel now no 
longer dependent on wind and tidewas subject to the com- 

ISO Civil War and Reconstruction 

iaander f and with some loss of vessels, some sacrifice of life, It 
was believed the forts might be run. This was an occasion when 
It became necessary to take great risks to accomplish great re 
sults. What was early spoken of as a possibility an event hoped 
for rather than attainable gradually gained favor with the Navy 
Department, until the conclusion was reached that it was not 
only practicable, but the best step which could be taken for 
perfecting the blockade, getting possession of the river, and to 
aid in suppressing the rebellion. The Assistant Secretary, Mr. 
Fox, who had been familiar with the river while in the merchant 
service, was earnest and unequivocal for a purely naval attack, 
and was confident the passage of the forts might be effected 
without military assistance. When, therefore, intelligence of the 
capture of the forts at Fort Royal was received and the manner 
in which it had been effected the squadron under Du Pont, 
like that under Stringham, having passed and repassed the 
batteries, Du Font s in a cirde, thus incurring double risk, with 
out material injury to the vessels or serious loss of life the views 
of the Navy Department in regard to the passage of Forts 
Jackson and St. Philip and the capture of New Orleans, hitherto 
speculative and uncertain, were confirmed, and measures for its 
accomplishment were commenced. 

President Lincoln was made acquainted with our views and 
our programme for passing the forts and the capture of New 
Orleans by the navy, and our belief in its success, based on the 
fact that steam had wrought a revolution in naval warfare, 
practical proof of which was furnished in the achievement of 
the navy at Hatteras and Port Royal. If the forts were passed, 
the fall of New Orleans was certain. He became deeply interested, 
but was at first somewhat incredulous as to the feasibility of 
the enterprise. Among the important movements projected, this 
had not been one. Military men, of whom there were many in 
and about the War Department whom he saw daily, had not 
suggested it. They had a different programme, and he had faith 
that the combined army and navy descent of the river which 
had been resolved upon, and was a favorite scheme in army 
circles, would sooner and more easily secure the city than any 
naval expedition ascending from the Gulf. His attention had 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 131 

been wholly directed to this combined movement for descending 
the Mississippi, which seemed more plausible and more power 
ful than the proposed ascent, where the fleet must struggle 
against a strong current and pass two of the most formidable 
forts on the continent. But, it was urged, the very fact that they 
were formidable, that the rebels confided in their strength, was 
an argument in our favor. On that side of the city they felt 
secure, and their chief preparations were and would be to resist 
approaches by the immense organizations from above, of which 
they had been and would continue to be duly warned. They 
were not making extra preparations for an attack from a dif 
ferent direction, and their suspicions should not be aroused. 
Secrecy would conduce to the success of a naval expedition. If 
it were to go forward, it was advisable that the measure should 
be discussed as little as possible, and for the time it was not 
necessary that the War Department should be made acquainted 
with our purpose. The naval success in the two preceding ex 
peditions, of which he had known but little and which had been 
quietly conducted, inspired the President with confidence In 
naval management and naval power, and with very little hesita 
tion he came into the project. Difficulty was experienced, how 
ever, in getting satisfactory and reliable topographical and hydro- 
graphical information, and correct knowledge of the actual 
defenses at the time. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy, as 
already stated, was acquainted with the river and the general 
aspect of the place, and felt confident the low shores and 
batteries could oppose no insurmountable obstruction, for the 
larger vessels could overlook them. 

About this time Commander D. D. Porter returned with 
the steam frigate Powhatan from an irregular cruise on which 
he had been improperly sent. Having wholly failed to carry out 
the plan on which he had been surreptitiously despatched, he 
was subsequently ordered to the Gulf squadron, and had been 
stationed for a period off one of the mouths of the Mississippi. 
On his return the Navy Department, having decided to make a 
naval attack on the forts and city, was glad to avail itself of his 
recent observations, and of whatever information he possessed 
in regard to the river and the forts. He was therefore questioned 

152 Civil War and Reconstruction 

and soon taken into our confidence. He entered with zeal into 
the views of the Department, but expressed great doubts whether 
the forts could be passed until reduced or seriously damaged. 
This he said might be effected by a flotilla of bomb-vessels with 
mortars, which could in forty-eight hours demolish the forts or 
render then untenable. Commander Porter s proposition was a 
departure from the original plan of the Navy Department, and 
was strongly objected to by the Assistant Secretary. It would not, 
however, have been good administration to have omitted any 
means considered by the army and Commander Porter, whom 
it consulted, essential to success; and as a mortar flotilla would 
furnish additional power and would probably render success 
more certain, it received favorable consideration from the Presi 
dent and Secretary of the Navy, and was adopted as a part of 
the programme. 

As a cooperative military force would be necessary, President 
Lincoln desired that General McClellan, who had just been 
installed General-in-Chief, should be advised of the plan and 
his approval and cooperation obtained. He therefore made an 
appointment for consultation at that officer s residence. At that 
time General McClellan occupied the house of Bayard Smith 
on the corner of H and Fourteenth streets, the present Washing 
ton residence of the Hon. Samuel Hooper of Boston. I had pro 
posed that the conference should take place at the Executive 
Mansion, but the President objected that we should be con 
stantly interrupted by persons whom he could not refuse to see 
members of the Cabinet and others. 

The meeting took place not far from the middle of Novem 
ber. My impression is, it was on the evening of the 15th. It 
was prior to the 18th of that month. I was accompanied to the 
conference by Assistant Secretary Fox and Commander D. D. 
Porter, both intelligent men in their profession and each ac 
quainted with the passes of the Mississippi and aware of the 
difficulties to be overcome. These gentlemen called at my house 
by previous arrangement to talk over the subject about an hour 
before the meeting, and went with me to General McClellan s. 
The President, General McClellan, and the two gentlemen 

Farragut and New Orleans 133 

named, with myself, were the only persons present at the 

General McClellan listened attentively to the proposition, 
but I thought with little confidnece in its success. To reduce 
the forts and capture New Orleans he seemed to suppose must 
of necessity be a military operation, which would require an 
army of at least 50,000 men. He could not spare so large a 
force, nor had he a competent military officer of high rank 
whom he could detail to command such an expedition and con 
duct the siege. When, however, he understood it was to be a 
naval expedition, and that a military force of 10,000 men to 
garrison the forts and hold the city after the navy had obtained 
possession was all that was required, he came readily into the 
arrangement. We had already obtained the promise of 2,500 
men for Ship Island, who were to be largely reinforced for a 
descent on Texas or an attack on Mobile, These troops, which 
were being recruited, might go forward with that expectation, 
and at the proper time when the navy was ready could be 
diverted to the Mississippi and New Orleans. 

The proposal of Commander Porter for a bomb flotilla met 
his decided approval. He deemed such a battery absolutely es 
sential to success. As our preparations would be formidable and 
consequently attract attention, and as there were spies and rebel 
sympathizers among us, it was concluded it would be best that the 
impression should continue that Texas or Mobile was the ob 
jective point, without specifying which; and to make matters 
still more indefinite, Charleston and Savannah were talked of. 
Profound and impenetrable secrecy in regard to New Orleans 
was enjoined upon each and all. 

Major Barnard, Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, 
who had been employed on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and 
knew their strength, was by advice of General McClellan con 
sulted. This officer fully appreciated the magnitude of the move 
ment and its immense importance to the country. He also ap 
proved ascending the rives to capture the city, but considered 
it all-important that the forts should be reduced before any 
attempt was made to go above them. This he recommended 

184 Civil Wax and Reconstruction 

should be a combined army and navy movement with ironclads 
and mortars. 

The original proposition of the Navy Department was to 
run past the forts and capture the city, when, the fleet being 
above and communication cut off, the lower defenses must fall. 
But the military gentlemen deemed the reduction of the forts 
before the passage of the naval vessels was attempted to be 
absolutely indispensable. The General-in-Chief, whose time and 
mind were occupied with the immense army then organizing in 
front of Washington, designated Major Barnard for consultation 
and advice in this naval expedition, to which he could not give 
the attention its importance demanded. Major Barnard in suc 
cessive interviews, and finally in a private memorandum, after 
giving the whole subject consideration, states: "I should consider 
necessary, first, a powerful fleet bearing from 300 to 400 guns 
(as many XL and IX. guns as can be had); second, half a dozen 
ironclad gunboats (or as many more as can be had); third, 
10,000 troops (all these might not be necessary in reducing the 
works, but they should be with the expedition to take immediate 
advantage of its success). I should hope to reduce the works 
without regular siege operations; but even if it became necessary 
to resort to them, the powerful artillery of the fleet would make 
a large siege train unnecessary. . . . The fleet should be ac 
companied by say 15 to 20 mortar vessels, such as are now being 
equipped. . . . But to pass those works (merely) with a fleet and 
appear before New Orleans is merely a raid no capture. New 
Orleans and the river cannot be held until communications are 
perfectly established/ 

These were the general views of an officer who appreciated 
and always did justice to the navy; who did not think 50,000 
men or regular seige approaches necessary; but who called for 
half a dozen or more irondads when we had not one, and 
deemed fifteen or twenty mortar vessels essential, and the re 
duction of the forts before the passage of the vessels was at 
tempted to be necessary. 

Commander Porter took a similar view in regard to the re 
duction of the forts before the passage of the ships. He proposed 
to destroy the works in forty-eight hours with a mortar flotilla, 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 135 

and was confident lie could effect their destruction in that rime. 
In its essential features his proposition corresponded with those 
of the army engineer. Both made it a point that the forts should 
be first reduced. Both were strongly combated by the Assistant 
Secretary, who adhered to the original naval programme, that 
the steamers could pass the forts without reducing or even 
bombarding them. But in deference to military authority and 
the confident assertions of Commander Porter, the proposition 
of the latter for a mortar flotilla was adopted as an auxiliary 
force, which might render assistance and be of no detriment to 
the expedition. 

The labor of preparation, especially after the scheme of a 
bomb flotilla was adopted, became immense, and was entered 
upon with alacrity and energy. Suitable vessels were to be pur 
chased and adapted to war purposes; immense mortars and shells 
were to be cast and mortar beds prepared; guns, carriages, pro 
jectiles, ordnance of every description ordered, and stores and 
supplies of all kinds provided. 

It was now an interesting inquiry what naval officer should 
be selected to command the expedition. An officer was wanted 
to carry out a plan already determined upon by the Department 
a plan that was not in all respects concurred in by the military 
authorities, which had not received their full sanction, nor had 
the original programme the approval of any naval officer. The 
duty to be imposed upon him was novel, and required courage, 
audacity, tact, and fearless energy, with great self-reliance, de 
cisive judgment, and ability to discriminate and act under trying 
and extraordinary circumstances. He was to be made fully ac 
quainted with the object and purpose of the Department, and to 
identify himself with them. He was also to be informed of the 
deviations which, on the suggestion and recommendations of 
others, had from abundance of caution been made. These he 
was to adopt or dispose of as he might judge best when on his 
post and in full command, but with a distinct understanding 
that he would be held accountable for the result. Every prom 
inent name in the higher grades of the navy was studied and 
scanned. The merits and characteristics of each officer in the 
service had been canvassed in every particular after the war 

1 36 Civil War and Reconstruction 

commenced, and the especial traits and reliability of each one 
examined, that we might know his qualities and fidelity, in order 
that we might rightly judge to what place or position he was 
best adapted. Seniority had its influence, but was not always 
satisfactory. Among the few marked for ability, nautical ex 
perience, and long and faithful service, but who had never yet 
been given a high command nor been fully tested and tried as 
chief, was Captain David Glasgow Farragut. Other names were 
considered and their merits weighed, examined, and compared. 
The important question of earnest, devoted loyalty to the Con 
stitution and the Union was of course a primary consideration. 
There was little doubt that the naval officers who had continued 
in service until the close of 1861, when this subject was under 
consideration, were faithful; but there were different degrees 
of fidelity as well as of capacity. Some officers had wavered at 
the beginning, who became afterward zealous in the cause; some 
throughout were cool and indifferent, who nevertheless obeyed 
orders as a matter of duty; but most of those who remained in 
the navy were patriotic and devoted to the country and the flag. 
Such as believed their obligations to their State or section to be 
paramount to those they owed their country had, prior to or 
at the commencement of hostilities, shown the sincerity of their 
convictions by tendering their resignations and leaving the 
service. With scarcely an exception, those who withdrew were 
Southern men. 

But the general demoralization which prevailed throughout 
the South caused the Navy Department, and for that matter 
every branch of the Government, to hesitate and doubt who 
that belonged to that section could be trusted. So general was 
the defection that confidence in all was impaired. Such was the 
uncertainty in regard to men, and so sectional the conflict, that 
the Navy Department felt it a duty at the commencement of 
difficulties to supersede every Southern officer in command of a 
vessel on a foreign station. But while the great body of Southern 
officers left the service in that crisis, those that remained were, 
with scarcely an exception, of undoubted and marked fidelity and 
patriotism. Sacrifices which others did not and could not make 
they submitted to. From a sense of duty and love of country 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 15? 

they became aliens, exiles from their homes and kindred. Prom 
inent among these was Captain Farragut, a Southern man by 
birth, a resident of the South from choice. He had never been 
a party man, and the doctrine of secession when introduced 
struck him with an abhorrence, as not only an error but a 
crime. Nationality is a sentiment with men who are employed 
professionally and for life in the Federal service; and among 
military, and especially naval officers, there is an undoubted 
tendency to centralism. Extraordinary efforts were made by 
leaders in the secession movement to enlist the State pride, local 
feeling, and personal ambition of naval officers of the South, 
and to weaken their Federal attachment. To a considerable 
extent these intrigues were successful. Failing to make them 
selves acquainted with the true political theory and structure 
of our system, many officers, naval and military, educated by 
their country and paid from its treasury, became estranged from 
the Union and abandoned the flag. Not so with Farragut. 
Nothing could shake his fidelity to the country and Government, 
which he loved with filial devotion and had served from his 
earliest youth. Residing at Norfolk, unemployed, on waiting 
orders, in the winter and spring of 1861, he watched with amaze 
ment and intense interest the exciting political movements of 
the period, and for the first time in his life became an active 
partisan. With his whole heart and energies he maintained the 
cause of the Union, and contributed to its success in Virginia 
by the triumphant vote in February, when the secessionists were 
beaten by 60,000 majority. In the belief that this clear expression 
of the popular sentiment was conclusive and the State made 
faithful, he reposed in comparative yet vigilant security until 
the firing on Sumter, when the violence of the secessionists, 
followed by the secret action of the Convention at Richmond, 
intelligence was received that the ordinance of secession had 
warned him that Virginia had swung from her moorings. The 
Convention was composed of a majority of nominal Union men, 
but many of them were of a passive and negative character, who 
trusted there would yet in some way be a compromise. The seces 
sionists, who were violent, positive, revolutionary, and wanted 
no compromise, cowed and controlled them. On the day when 

158 Civil War and Reconstruction 

intelligence was received that the ordinance of secession had 
passed the Convention, Captain Farragot determined to abandon 
Norfolk and the State. His home should be in the Union; he 
would recognize and serve under no flag but that under which 
he was born, which for fifty years, in every land and clime, he 
had supported, and to defend which he had always been ready 
to yield his life; his hand should never be raised against it, nor 
would he be indifferent to its cause. Collecting hastily a few 
valuables, he placed his wife, sister, and their children in a 
carriage, put his loaded pistols in his pocket, and within two 
hours from the reception of the news that Virginia had decided 
to secede he proceeded to the Baltimore steamer, then at the 
wharf. Leaving all else behind, he resolved not to be denational 
ized or torn from the Union; he would know no country but that 
which he had loved and served from his childhood. The next day 
he passed through Baltimore, then in that excited insurrection 
which followed the massacre of the Massachusetts volunteers. 
The ordinary channels of travel by steamers and railroads were 
interrupted, and in the general confusion it was difficult to 
procure means of transportation or to leave the city. He found 
by accident that a common canal boat was leaving the wharf 
for Philadelphia. On this boat, which had indifferent accom 
modations for about eighteen persons, there were crowded nearly 
three hundred-fugitives, like himself and family, seeking refuge 
in the North. He reached New York after some annoyance and 
inconvenience with but slight pecuniary means to sustain him 
self and his exiled and dependent family. Being on waiting 
orders for the Department, which did not then know these 
particulars, was moving with cautious, vigilant, and wary steps, 
careful and guarded whom to trust, and in the employment of 
Southern officers particularly circumspect Captain Farragut felt 
his pecuniary resources insufficient for his support in the great 
metropolis. Always modest and unobtrusive, and almost a stranger 
in New York, he found a resting place for a few days under the 
roof of a friend whom he had previously known, until he could 
obtain a secluded place out of the city, adapted to his limited 
means. He succeeded in getting a modest cottage at Hastings on 
the Hudson at a rent of $150 per annum, which he plainly fur- 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 139 

nished, and to which, with one servant, lie retired to await events 
ready, however, and anxious to serve his counrty and give 
himself to her cause. 

Active employment was not immediately given him, partly for 
reasons already stated, and partly because there were not at that 
early day naval vessels and positions for all in the higher grades. 

A sifting of the naval officers was required to preserve har 
mony and render the service efficient. Some of them were old 
and infirm; some were physically and others mentally incom 
petent; but none would admit infirmity, and all wanted em 
ployment. While it might have been wrong to dismiss any of 
them from the service, it would have been a greater wrong to 
have given some of them active duty. Congress, therefore, at the 
extra session in the summer of 1861, took steps to relieve the 
Department of this difficulty, and under the act of August 3, 
1861, for the better organization of the military establishment, 
a board of officers was convened to name such as should be 
retired from active service. Captain Farragut was made a member 
of that board. The duty was delicate and responsible, requiring 
sagacity, just discrimination, impartiality, and decision; for they 
were to take the Register and pass on the merits of each and 
every officer on the active list of the navy. 

I had met and been favorably impressed by Captain Far 
ragut some fifteen years previously, during the Mexican war, 
when I was officiating in the Navy Department as chief of a 
naval bureau. He at that time made what was considered a 
remarkable proposition to the then Secretary of the Navy, John 
Y. Mason, which was a plan to take the castle of San Juan d Ulloa. 
I was present when he stated and urged his plan. It was character 
ized by the earnest, resolute, and brave daring which at a later 
day was distinctly brought out in our great civil conflict. Secre 
tary Mason heard him patiently, but dismissed him and his 
project as visionary and impracticable. The officer and the in 
terview I remembered; and though we had not met for years, 
the impression then made upon me remained and was alluded 
to. He was gratified with my allusion to it, and remarked they 
thought him crazy, but he was still satisfied the enterprise was 
feasible and that he would have taken the castle had he been 

140 Civil War and Reconstruction 

permitted the opportunity. Naval men in whom I confided 
spoke well of him, but I think few, if any, appreciated his high 
and really strong qualities, and most of them, if aware of the 
New Orleans expedition, and had the choice of a commander 
developed upon them, would likely have selected some other 
favorite, Farragut was attached to no clique, which is some 
times the bane of the navy, was as modest and truthful as he 
was self-reliant and brave, had individuality, and resorted to none 
of the petty contrivances common with many for position and 

A division of the Atlantic squadron had been made in the 
autumn, when Flag Officer Du Pont embarked for Port Royal; 
and the extensive coast west of the Florida peninsula justified 
a division of the squadron in the Gulf. Such a division would 
throw the contemplated New Orleans expedition within the 
limits of the western squadron, and the necessary appointment 
of an additional flag officer would serve as a cover to the expedi 
tion, and not excite curiosity or comment as to any ulterior pur 
pose. In scanning the Register with the Assistant Secretary for 
the flag officer to command the expedition he spoke favorably 
of Farragut, and his recommendation chimed in with my own 
impressions and convictions. Further inquiries were necessary, 
however, before deciding so important a question. This was at 
tended with some difficulty and embarrasment. There were 
rivalries and jealousies in the service to be encountered. The 
knowledge of the expedition was confined to a few, and could 
not well be imparted to others, even to those whose opinions 
it was an object to ascertain. Nor would it do to select and 
make known the purpose in hand to one who would hesitate, 
or who had not the combined dash, daring, heroism, good sense, 
and judgment to excute the important trust. The responsibility 
of selecting the commander was great. Everything depended up 
on it, and the country would, and ought to, hold the Secretary 
of the Navy responsible for the selection. Many excellent officers 
in secondary or surbordinate positions, who implicitly obey 
orders, fail as leaders or commanders-in-chief . In the long interval 
of peace our officers had not had opportunity to develop their 
respective peculiar or extraordinary qualities and capabilities, 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 141 

nor had the Department the benefit of any such development 
to assist in its choice. Farragut had a good reputation, had been 
severely trained, and had always done his duty well, but had never 
commanded a squadron or achieved eminent distinction. His 
name is now a household word, and his fame extends abroad; 
but in 1861 he was not more prominent than others of his grade. 
Those great qualities which have since been brought out were 
dormant. He had a good but not a conspicuous record. All who 
knew him gave him the credit of being a good officer, of good 
sense and good habits, who had faithfully and correctly discharg 
ed his duty in every position to which he had been assigned. 
There were others also endowed with these traits, but the ques 
tion was, had he, or any one, the higher qualities which are es 
sential for a chief, and were indispensable for this the most im 
portant naval expedition ever undertaken by the United States, 
and which in fact had, in some respects, no precedent or paral 
lel in naval annals? Would he adopt the Department plan, make 
it his own, carry it into effect? We had at that time no admiral 
or chief naval officer to identify himself in our programme, and 
whom to consult, and collision and rivalries among the com 
manders of squadrons were to be avoided; at the same time sub 
ordinates were to be impressed with confidence and zeaL 

Flag Officer McKean, who succeeded Commodore Mervine 
in command of the Gulf squadron, found his health giving way 
under his extensive and exacting duties; it was therefore neces 
sary as well as expedient that a division of the squadron should 
be made. 

The Assistant Secretary, Mr. Fox, was directed to obtain Com 
mander Porter s opinion of Captain Farrgut. There had been an 
intimacy between the families of Farragut and Porter, dating 
back to the administration of Mr. Jefferson, when the father 
of Admiral Farragut had conferred essential favors on the 
elder Porter, who had reciprocated those favors by assisting 
young Glasgow Farragut, then a boy nine or ten years of age, 
to obtain a midshipman s warrant. He adopted him as a 
protg6, and made him virtually one of his family. In gratitude 
and affection young Farragut soon after took the name of David, 
and was so baptized in die Episcopal church at Newport. As 

142 Civil War and Reconstruction 

Commander Porter had been let into the secret of the expedi 
tion, and the relations between him and Farragut were such as 
here stated, there was propriety in getting his opinions pre 
liminary to inquiries of Farragut himself. Admirals Shubrick, 
Joseph Smith, and one or two others, spoke well of him for the 
position of flag officer, without being at the time aware of the 
other and important ultimate design of the Department. It now 
became important to ascertain the ideas, feelings, and views of 
Captain Farragut himself, and this, if possible, before informing 
him of the expedition, or committing the Department in any 
respect. Nothing, as has been stated, was put on paper which 
related to the actual destination of the expedition, and every 
movement was made with caution and circumspection. Under 
these circumstances it was thought best to intrust Commander 
Porter with a confidential mission to proceed to New York on 
business relating to the mortar flotilla, and while there to 
ascertain, in personal interviews and conversations on naval mat 
ters and belligerent operations generally, the views of Captain 
Farragut on the subject of such a programme and naval at 
tack as was proposed by the Navy Department, without advising 
him of our object or letting him know that the Department 
had any purpose in Porter s inquiries or knew of them. The 
following letter, written to Commander Porter, is so worded 
as to furnish no information of the expedition or the special 
object intrusted to him. It is the first preparatory order for bomb 
vessels and mortars destined for the Mississippi. His authority 
to see and sound Captain Farragut was unwritten: 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, November 18, 1861. 
Commander DAVID D. PORTER, U. S. Navy, 
Washington, D. C. 


Proceed to Philadelphia and New York and examine at 
those places the schooners purchased by the Government, 
whether any of them are suitable for bomb vessels. In New 
York Mr. George D. Morgan, 54 Exchange Place, and Com 
mander Henry H. Bell, will show you what vessels of that 
dass are already fitting for service. If, in your judgment, 
none of these are capable of being arranged for mortars, 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 145 

you are authorized to purchase six suitable vessels, and 
Commander Bell will arrange them as you may suggest. 
Consult with the Ordnance Bureau before you leave Wash 
ington relative to the mortars. 

You will also examine the iron-clad vessels now build 
ing at Philadelphia, New York, and Mystic, Connecticut, 
and report the result on your return. Upon the completion 
of this duty, you will return to Washington. 

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 


Commander Porter s report of Ms interviews with Captain 
Farragut was favorable, and that officer was, on the 15th of 
December, detached from special duty and ordered to Wash 
ington, that the Department, before committing itself in this 
important matter, might be fully assured in regard to him in 
all respects. The proceedings had reached such a point, the 
programme was so well settled and defined, and the prepara 
tions were so far advanced, that we could no longer postpone 
the selection of the officer who was to command; and it was 
equally necessary he should know the fact and the labor, dangers, 
and responsibilities he was to assume. Captain Farragut, under 
this summons, arrived in Washington on Saturday the 21st of 
December, and in order that the Department should continue 
uncommitted, the Assistant Secretary was authorized to have 
a free, social, and discretionary talk with him on the subject, 
before his interview with myself. This he did on the day Captain 
Farragut arrived at the house of the Postmaster-General, Mr. 
Blair, where he dined, and who, as I afterward learned, was 
present at that interview. Captain Farragut entered at once so 
heartily into the subject, and was so earnest and enthusiastic, 
that Mr. Fox unhesitatingly made known to him the purpose 
of the Department, and exhibited a list of the vessels which 
were being prepared for the expedition. Then, and In subse 
quent interviews with myself, he gave his unqualified approval 
of the original plan, adopted it with enthusiasm, said it was 
the true way to get to New Orleans, and offered to run by the 
forts with even a less number of vessels than we were preparing 

144 Ovil War and Reconstruction 

for him, provided that number could not be supplied. He was 
made acquainted with the project of a mortar flotilla, to be 
commanded by Commander Porter. This, though not of his 
advisement, he said he would take with him, as it was a part of 
the enterprise, and some of the vessels and mortars had already 
been procured; but they were of less importance, in his estima 
tion, and he placed less reliance on them than others. In every 
particular he came up to all that was expected and required. 
To obey orders, he said, was his first duty; to take any risk that 
might be imposed upon him by the Government, to obtain a 
great result, he considered obligatory; and believing it impera 
tive that a good officer and citizen should frankly, but re 
spectfully, communicate his professional opinions, he said, while 
he would not have advised the mortar flotilla, it might be of 
greater benefit than he anticipated, might be more efficient 
than he expected, and he willingly adopted it as a part of his 
command, though he apprehended it would be likely to warn 
the enemy of our intentions. He expected, however, to pass the 
forts and restore New Orleans to the Government, or never re 
turn. He might not come back, he said, but the city would be 
ours. Admiral Farragut was never profuse in promises, but he 
felt complimented that he was selected, and I saw that in 
modest self-reliance he considered himself equal to the emer 
gency and to the expectation of the Government. He was, there 
fore, on the 23d of December, directed to hold himself in 
readiness to take command of the West Gulf squadron and the 
expedition to New Orleans. 


Admiral Fatragut and New Orleans 




IRE HAVE been particularity of dates and detail, and 
quotations from official documents, in relation to the preliminary 
arrangements for the New Orleans expedition, in order to correct 
some of the many strange statements and misrepresentations of its 
inception which appear in most if not all the histories that 
have been written of the war. Partiality and prejudice almost 
universally influence those who undertake to write contempo 
raneous history. Partisanship entered largely into the feelings 
of most of the writers of the time, and a desire to throw promi 
nently forward party favorites, rather, it is to be hoped, than a 
wish to do injustice to others or to pervert history, warped their 
judgment and led them to ignore facts, to misstate the origi 
nators of the enterprise, and also the real commander, to draw 
false inferences, and to award undue credit to favored party 
leaders, Farragut, the great chief, the actual leader in the fight, 
the real hero who commanded the expedition and captured 
New Orleans, is represented as an assistant or subordinate to 
the General who accompanied him, but who was not under fire, 
and to whom, when the fighting was over, he, in pursuance of his 
orders from the Navy Department, turned over the forts and 
the city that he had captured. But Farragut was not a political 

The Galaxy, XII (December, 1871). 


146 Civil Wax and Reconstruction 

partisan, nor the special favorite of a faction was identified 
with no party, and would permit himself to be used by none. 

In the second volume of Greeley s "American Conflict," pur 
porting to give a history of the war, the fifth chapter is devoted to 
"Butler s Expedition to the Gulf Capture of New Orleans." It 
is not said or intimated that it was Farragut s expedition, though 
Farragut commanded it, was engaged in preparation for it, and 
had his orders to command it long before Butler was informed 
of it, and actually did the fighting, passed the forts, and captured 
New Orleans, and several days after its capture gave it into the 
possession of General Butler. The principal features and ground 
work of that chapter of the "American Conflict," which have 
misled others, are, in many respects, and especially as to the 
origin of the expedition and the principal commander, mere 
partisan conjecture false inference a perversion of history, not 
a record of facts. It is said, among other things, that "the substi 
tution of Mr. Edwin M. Stanton for General Simon Cameron 
as head of the War Department caused some further delay." 
This substitution had no influence whatever on the movement, 
for the expedition and its object had not been communicated to 
the War Department when the change of Secretaries was made. 
Mr. Cameron s going out or Mr. Stanton s going into the Cabinet 
had nothing to do with it. It was not an enterprise of the War 
Department. The first knew nothing of the expedition while 
Secretary of War; the last was not advised of it until it was on 
the point of consummation. If the author of the "American 
Conflict" had anything beyond mere guesswork for his history, 
he was egregiously deceived. Among other things he says: 

"Mobile had been generally guessed the object of General 
Butler s mysterious expedition, whose destination was not abso 
lutely fixed even in the councils of its authors. An effort to 
re-annex Te^c^s had been considered, if not actually contem 
plated. It was^ .finally decided, in a conference between Secretary 
Stanton and, General Butler, that a resolute attempt should be 
made on New Orleans; and though General McClellan, when 
requested to give his opinion of the feasibility of the enterprise, 
reported that it could not be prudently undertaken with a less 
force than 50,000 men, while all that could be spared to General 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 147 

Butler was 15,000. President Lincoln after hearing all sides gave 
judgment for the prosecution/* 

Truth and error are here blended in a way to sacrifice the 
former. Had the author made inquiry, or Investigated the case, 
he would have learned that Mr. Stanton was not appointed 
Secretary of War until the 13th of January, 1862 two months 
after the conference, of which he appears to have been ignorant, 
between the President, Secretary of the Navy, and others at 
General McClellan s house. At that time it was finally decided 
that the plan, which had its first conception in the Navy De 
partment as early as September, and had been quietly considered 
and canvassed until the capture of Port Royal on the 17th of 
November, should be carried out The navy had taken Ship 
Island, which may be considered perhaps the first step in this 
movement, and held it until troops were sent to occupy it The 
naval vessels were in preparation, the bomb-vessels had been pur 
chased and were undergoing the necessary alterations for the 
mortar beds, and orders for the mortars had been issued in 
November, 1861. Captain Farragut had been seen, summoned 
to Washington, consulted and directed to hold himself in readi 
ness to command the expedition weeks before Mr. Stanton was 
appointed Secretary of War consequently, before either he or 
General Butler was aware, or could have been consulted, or 
had thought of such an attempt, or knew it was to be made. 

Mr. Parton, in his book, "General Butler in New Orleans," 
relates that "One day (about January 10), toward the close of 
a long conference between the General and the Secretary, Mr. 
Stanton suddenly asked: Why can t New Orleans be taken? The 
question thrilled General Butler to the marrow. It can/ he 
replied. This was the first time New Orleans had been mentioned 
in General Butler s hearing, but by no means the first time he 
had thought of it. The Secretary told him to prepare a pro 
gramme, and for the third time the General dashed at the 
charts and books. General McClellan, too, was requested to pre 
sent an opinion on the feasibility of the enterprise* He reported 
that the capture of New Orleans would require an army of 
50,000 men, and no such number could be spared. Even Texas, 
he thought, should be given up for the present. But now General 

148 Civil War and Reconstruction 

Butler fired with the splendor and daring of the new project, 
exerted all the forces of his nature to win for it the success of 
the Government. He talked New Orleans to every member of 
the Cabinet. In a protracted interview with the President he 
argued, he urged, he entreated, he convinced. Nobly was he 
seconded by Mr. Fox, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a 
native of Lowell, a schoolmate of General Butler s. His whole 
heart was in the scheme. The President spoke at length the 
decisive word, and the General almost reeled from the White 
House in the intoxication of his relief and joy." 

The truth is, the President, instead of being urged, entreated, 
and at length convinced, in January, as stated, had "spoke the 
decisive word" as early as the middle of November, had many 
interviews with the Secretary of the Navy in regard to it, had 
examined charts and been made acquainted with the opinions 
of the Army Engineer, General Barnard, and advised that the 
auxiliary bomb flotilla proposed by Commander Porter should 
be adopted, before Mr. Stanton was a member of Mr. Lincoln s 
Cabinet. Mr. Fox, who is represented as seconding General 
Butler, had been engaged for many weeks in earnest, incessant 
labors and preparatory arrangements before General Butler was 
let into the secret. If General Butler "talked with every member 
of the Cabinet" on this subject, it was contrary to the express 
understanding which was faithfully observed by all others. Gen 
eral McClellan, who, it is represented, was requested by Secretary 
Stanton on the 28th of January to give "an opinion upon the 
feasibility of the enterprise," had made his views known in No 
vember. These views he appears to have repeated in January to 
the Secretary of War. 

In the biography or autobiography of Admiral D. D. Porter, 
published by Headley, a statement is made of the origin of the 
expedition widely different from that of Parton, yet about as 
erroneous. Headley says: 

The Powhatan, having steamed over ten thousand miles with 
her condemned machinery, was now obliged to return to the 
United States, where she was laid up at about the time of the Du 
Pont expedition to Port Royal, and Lieutenant Porter was de- 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 149 

tachedL He Immediately sought other active service, and the 
capture of New Orleans being proposed by him, he was put in 
communication with General McClellan, and General Barnard 
of the Engineers, to talk the matter over. They were unanimous 
in their opinion that the city could be taken, and preparations 
were accordingly made to attempt the capture of the forts at 
or near the mouth of the Mississippi river. Admiral Farragut 
was ordered to command the naval forces, and Lieutenant Porter, 
having recommended a large force of mortar vessels, was directed 
to equip them without delay." 

Commander Porter was informed that the Navy Department 
intended to send an expedition to capture New Orleans two 
months earlier than General Butler, but he no more proposed it 
than that gentleman. He did, when let into the confidence of 
the Department, and made aware of its programme, "recom 
mend a large force of mortar vessels," and he is entitled to the 
credit of having proposed that appendage to the squadron. It 
was not a part of the original programme of the Navy Depart 
ment. This statement of Headley is in direct conflict with Greeley 
and Parton as regards those who proposed the expedition and 
the time of its inception. Headley claims Porter proposed it 
in November; Greeley and Parton that Stanton and Butler, in 
consultation, suggested it in January, and that the President 
then decided it. Neither statement is true. For reasons stated, 
Porter was made acquainted with the purpose and the pro 
gramme of the Navy Department in November, but he no more 
originated it than Stanton or Butler in January. He and General 
Barnard should have the credit of appending the mortar flotilla 
to the original programme of the Navy Department. The his 
torians must have little practical knowledge, and must have made 
only superficial investigation, who could come to the conclusion 
that such an expedition could have been instituted and com 
pleted within the time specified by themselves. The history of 
the world may be searched in vain for such an achievement. 
The navy programme for the expedition moved on favorably, 
though delayed beyond expectation, chiefly by the preparation 
of the bomb fleet of mortar vessels for Commander Porter, who 

150 Civil War and Reconstruction 

was never wanting in energy, and who, as well as others, was 
actively employed after the 18th of November in preparations 
for the enterprise. 

I have no disposition to detract from the credit or real 
merits of General Butler. He was preferred to an educated and 
trained military officer for the reason that the army plan dif 
fered from the naval programme. The course which he pur 
sued, and his brief administration of affairs at Baltimore, were 
such as to make him acceptable to Farragut in an expedition 
where the military General was to receive from the naval officer, 
who was the actual commander of the expedition, the captured 
city, and govern it, as he had governed turbulent and insur 
rectionary Baltimore. It was as acceptable to me as to the mili 
tary officers that he should command the military forces which 
were to cooperate with Farragut, though perhaps for different 
reasons. That expedition was, in its inception and execution, 
not a military but a naval affair, in which the army was directed 
to assist the navy and in due time to garrison the forts and 
occupy and govern the city. Whatever may have been General 
Butler s views as to the practicability of taking either forts or 
city, or whatever may have been his plan, if he had any dis 
tinctive plan, few of the educated and trained military officers 
believed that the forts could be passed and the city captured 
by a naval force; and many, perhaps most, of the naval officers 
were also incredulous in that respect. Nor could it have been 
accomplished under the old order of things with sailing vessels 
under canvas against the opposing current of the Mississippi. 
But steam had wrought a revolution in naval tactics and naval 
warfare, and in encountering and passing batteries, which 
army officers were slow to realize. The passage of the forts had, 
however, been demonstrated to be a possibility, to those who 
were not irrevocably wedded to old ideas and usages, at Hatteras 
and Fort Royal. Farragut realized, appreciated, and adapted his 
tactics to the change. General Butler had confidence in the navy 
and the enterprise greater than that of educated and more ex 
perienced military commanders. I never understood that he had 
any programme or plan, or that he claims to have had any. Nor 
do his instructions indicate that there was any military plan at 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 151 

headquarters other than that of seconding the navy. On the 21st 
of March, Flag Officer Farragut, in a private note written on 
his flagship the Colorado, in the Gulf, says: "General Butler 
arrived yesterday. I called on him. He appears to have no defi 
nite plans, but will hold what we take This is in conformity 
with the naval programme and our original understanding. Gen 
eral McGlellan had said, at the conference which took place at 
his house in November, that to take the forts and capture New 
Orleans would require an army of 50,000 men. But when he 
said this he supposed it was to be a military movement. When 
informed it was to be a naval expedition, and that a cooperative 
force of only 10,000 men from the army was asked, to hold what 
the navy might take, he readily assented to the plan and promised 
us the required military assistance. The subject, however, did 
not burden his mind, at that time engaged in vast army move 
ments; for being a naval expedition, it imposed on him neither 
labor nor responsibility beyond that of furnishing, when the 
Navy Department was prepared, the promised aid of 10,000 men. 
He evidently was less sanguine than others of us that the ex 
pedition would be a success, but he knew that the movement 
would give the rebels employment at a distant point, keep them 
out of Virginia, where they were concentrating their strength, 
and he was not unwilling to be relieved of the Lowell politician, 
who had attained high military rank, was restless, and not dis 
posed to be idle or set aside. 

The embarrassment which was experienced in consequence 
of the delay in fitting the vessels, creating the mortar fleet, pro 
curing the mortars, shells, iron carriages, etc., rendered it ad 
visable to retard the sailing of the troops. In the mean time, 
however, the promised detachment of 2,500 men went forward 
on the 27th of November, pursuant to previous agreement, in 
the transport Constitution, under the command of Brigadier- 
General Phelps, to take possession of Ship Island, which had 
been held since the 17th of September by the navy. General 
Butler, whom the War Department proposed to send out with 
the first detachment, and who as yet knew nothing of their 
ultimate destination, but supposed they were to move in due 
time on Mobile or Texas, was impatient for active service, and 

152 Civil War and Reconstruction 

to keep him employed, as well as to divert the attention of him 
self and others from the object in view, he was directed to pre 
pare a paper upon Texas. Information was soon after received 
of the hostile attitude of Great Britain, in consequence of the 
capture of Slidell and Mason on the Trent, which furnished 
reason sufficient to satisfy their commander for detaining the 
New England volunteers. Until the naval vessels and the mortar 
flotilla were ready, these undisciplined volunteers were better 
in camp at the North, and could be better and more easily and 
more economically supplied than at Ship Island. 

In January, 1862, a change took place in the administration 
of the War Department. Mr. Cameron, the retiring Secretary, 
had never been apprised of the naval programme and purpose 
to capture New Orleans; and his successor, who entered upon his 
duties on the 14th of January, was not immediately informed of 
it. The little which had been done and promised by the military 
branch of the Government up to this date had been by General 
McClellan, under the orders of the President. Everything had 
moved forward propitiously, but about the period of the change 
of Secretary of War an earnest application was made for men 
in the sounds of North Carolina and for more troops to carry 
on operations in South Carolina and Georgia. The Secretary of 
War recognized the application as both necessary and expedient, 
and being as yet unaware of the intention to capture New 
Orleans, but supposing the expedition to the Gulf was, as had 
been given out, to operate against Mobile or Texas, he yielded 
to the appeal of General Sherman and others, and orders were 
issued that the New England volunteers should go to Port Royal 
or North Carolina instead of Ship Island. Information of this 
fact first reached the Navy Department through General Butler, 
who was greatly disappointed that his coast operations in the 
extreme Southwest were to be interfered with. He and his chief 
of staff, General Shepley, called on his old neighbor and school 
mate, Mr. Fox, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and made 
known his disappointment. He said the troops which had been 
sent to Ship Island by express request of the Secretary of the 
Navy were to be withdrawn, and the second instalment, then 
on board the steamer Constitution at Hampton Roads, instead 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 153 

of going to the Gulf, were ordered to be disembarked or to 
remain on the Atlantic coast. Comprehending the difficulties 
that must follow from these untimely and conflicting orders, Mr. 
Fox hastened at once to the War Department with a view of 
getting the orders intercepted and countermanded. He found 
Mr. Stanton alone, and astonished that gentleman by stating to 
him the preparations that for more than two months had been 
on foot for the expedition, its object, and that the troops already 
at Ship Island, as well as those embarked on the Constitution, 
were a part of the enterprise, and essential to its success. They 
were regiments belonging to a military force of 10,000 men which 
General McClellan, with the knowledge and approval of the 
President, had promised the Secretary of the Navy as a co 
operating military force in the proposed naval attack upon the 
Mississippi forts and New Orleans. Secretary Stanton took him 
by the hand in amazement. "An attack upon New Orleans by 
the navy?" said he. "I never have heard of it. It is the best news 
you could give me." An orderly was sent immediately for Gen 
eral McClellan, who on his arrival confirmed the statement, said 
there was an understanding by which the army, when the Navy 
Department had its arrangements completed, was to furnish the 
force named, and if the naval preparations were sufficiently 
advanced the troops must be forthcoming. So quietly had the 
preparations progressed, and so little had he been consulted in 
this naval expedition, that General McClellan was surprised 
when informed of the facts, the progress that had been made, 
and that Flag Officer Farragut had been selected and received 
his orders. This was the first knowledge Mr. Stanton had of 
the expedition. It was on the 28th of January, a fortnight after 
he entered upon his duties in the War Department, and more 
than two months after the expedition had been determined upon 
in the conference which took place at the house of General 
McClellan. The whole intervening time had been actively and 
unremittingly employed in making the necessary naval prepara 

So large a squadron as that which composed the expedition 
could not be prepared and fitted without time. Most of the im 
mense mortars and shells were to be cast; some of the naval 

154 Civil War and Reconstruction 

vessels were on the stocks when the enterprise was first ordered, 
and even the Hartford, which became the flagship of Admiral 
Farragut, had not been refitted after her return from the East 
Indies when Commander Porter was sent off to prepare the 
mortar fleet. The whole energy and power of the Navy Depart 
ment had been thrown into the work, and it is questionable 
if so large a force under similar circumstances was ever so 
speedily called out, prepared, and organized by any government. 

Although Mr. Stanton first learned of the expedition in 
directly as stated, he entered into it warmly and gave us a larger 
cooperating military force than had been promised by General 
McClellan. In an interview between him and myself immediately 
after his conversation with Mr. Fox and General McClellan, 
I explained, as did the President also, why the latter had been 
early consulted, and was our military confidant, and also the 
necessity for continued secrecy. The importance of secrecy he 
appreciated, but was not entirely satisfied that General McClellan 
should have been exclusively the confidant of the Government 
in a military movement. It is known that for some unexplained 
reason he and General McClellan had become estranged, and 
this may have been the beginning of that estrangement which 
resulted soon after in positive alienation. 

If, as stated by Mr. Parton, General Butler "talked New 
Orleans to every member of the Cabinet," it was not with the 
approval of the head of the army, nor in unison with the views 
and convictions of Mr. Stanton or the President, and was in 
direct opposition to the injunctions of the Navy Department. 
There was reticence on the part of all others. In the orders of 
the Gommander-in-Chief to General Butler, three weeks later, 
secrecy was still strictly enjoined, as will be seen by the first 
paragraph of General McClellan s orders: 

Major-General BUTLER, United States Army. 


You are assigned to the command of the land forces 
destined to cooperate with the navy in the attack on New 
Orleans. You will use every means to keep the destination 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 155 

a profound secret, even from your staff officers, with the 
exception of your chief of staff and Lieutenant Weitzel of 
the Engineers. . . . 

Major-General commanding, etc 

These rigid orders of the General-in-Chief to keep secret the 
destination of the expedition even from his staff officers would 
scarcely have been enjoined so late as February, if General Butler 
had, as stated, been rushing around Washington in January 
"talking New Orleans." It is doubtless one of the many mistakes 
of a partial biographer, who, in his efforts to give his subject 
undue and excessive praise, does him a positive injury. General 
Butler needs no false credit or manufactured notoriety in regard 
to the part taken by him in the New Orleans expedition and the 
measures attending and following it. He did not originate the 
expedition, nor urge or convince the President or any one having 
authority, as his biographer represents, for the project had been 
adopted and was in progress long before he ever interchanged 
a word with the President or Secretary of War or any one else 
on the subject. The same may be said in regard to Mr. Stanton, 
whom most of the historians of the civil war mention as having 
proposed, or been the chief mover and actor in the expedition, 
whereas he was not made Secretary of War, nor did he know 
anything of it, until it was near its consummation. Then, having 
just entered the War Department, he generously seconded the 
work, and ordered an increase of the military force from 10,000 
men promised by General McClellan to 18,000, with an as 
surance we should have more, if more were necessary. But he 
never considered himself or the War Department responsible 
for the expedition, nor did he have other care or issue orders 
except to second and sustain the Navy Department in that 
enterprise. The fact that Admiral Farragut left for the Gulf 
about the time Mr. Stanton was made Secretary of War, and that 
the second instalment of troops for Ship Island sailed soon after, 
led the inconsiderate admirers of the Secretary of War and 
General Butler to infer, without knowledge or investigation, that 
these gentlemen were the originators of an expedition which re- 

156 Civil War and Reconstruction 

quired months of preparation, and which was on its way before 
these gentlemen were aware of its destination. Each entered 
earnestly into the plan when informed of it, each in his way 
performed well his part in forwarding the troops that were to 
cooperate with the navy but the expedition in its inception and 
preparation was not in any particular a project of the army or of 
the War Department. As soon as advised of the expedition, the 
naval programme, and the preparations which had been made, 
Mr. Stanton countermanded and corrected all military orders 
which interfered with it, and General Shepley, Butler s chief 
of staff, left Washington on the following day, the 29th of 
January, to join his command, and embarked on the army trans 
port steamer Constitution on her second trip, which sailed 
immediately for Ship Island with the second instalment of 
troops. General Butler sailed from Hampton Roads on the 25th 
of February, nearly a month later, more than three months after 
the expedition had been ordered, and about four weeks after 
he was informed of the destination of himself and the force 
which he had raised in New England, to which the Secretary 
of War subsequently added other Western regiments, amount 
ing to about 15,000 men, not 18,000 as had been promised. 
But disaster attended his voyage, and it was not until the 25th 
of March, just one month after leaving Hampton Roads, that 
he arrived at Ship Island. 

Captain Farragut received his preparatory orders on the 
23d of December, his full orders from the Navy Department as 
Flag Officer on the 20th of January, sailed from Hampton Roads 
on the 3d of February, and arrived at Ship Island on the 20th. 
The following are his orders, given into his hands before leaving 
Washington, and before either the Secretary of War or General 
Butler had been advised of the ultimate object of the expedition: 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, January 20, 1862. 
Flag Officer D. G. FARRAGUT, appointed to command 
Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. 


When the Hartford is in all respects ready for sea, you 
will proceed to the Gulf of Mexico with all possible des- 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 157 

patch, and communicate with Flag Officer W. W. McKean, 
who is directed by the enclosed despatch to transfer to you 
the command of the Western Gulf blockading squadron. , . 
There will be attached to your squadron a fleet of bomb 
vessels and armed steamers enough to manage them, all 
under command of Commander D. D. Porter, who will be 
directed to report to you. As fast as these vessels are got 
ready they will be sent to Key West to await the arrival of 
all and the commanding officers, who will be permitted 
to organize and practise with them at that port. 

When these formidable mortars arrive and you are com 
pletely ready, you will collect such vessels as can be spared 
from the blockade, and proceed up the Mississippi river 
and reduce the defences which guard the approaches to 
New Orleans, when you will appear off that city and take 
possession of it under the guns of your squadron, and hoist 
the American flag therein, keeping possession until troops 
can be sent to you. If the Mississippi expedition from Cairo 
shall not have descended the river, you will take advantage 
of the panic to push a strong force up the river to take all 
their defences in the rear. As you have expressed yourself 
perfectly satisfied with the force given to you, and as many 
more powerful vessels will be added before you can com 
mence operations, the Department and the country require 
of you success. . . . There are other operations of minor im 
portance which will commend themselves to your judgment 
and skill, but which must not be allowed to interfere with 
the great object in view the certain capture of the city of 
New Orleans. 

Destroy the armed barriers which these deluded people 
have raised up against the power of the United States 
Government, and shoot down those who war against the 
Union; but cultivate with cordiality the first returning 
reason which is sure to follow your success. 

Respectfully, etc., 


These orders, it will be observed, are framed to meet the 
case and its requirements. They state briefly, but with some 
particularity, the great object in view and the manner in which 

158 Civil War and Reconstruction 

it was to be accomplished, but yet give the Flag Officer latitude 
and discretion in the employment of the means placed under 
his command. 

There were, as has been mentioned, differences of opinion as 
to the best method of reaching New Orleans. Army officers be 
lieved the city could not be captured by a naval force ascending 
from the Gulf without first reducing Forts Jackson and St. 
Philip. This was also the opinion of Commander Porter, who, 
nevertheless, was confident that with such a mortar flotilla as 
was furnished him he could so reduce or impair the works as 
to render the passage of the steamers practicable. The original 
navy programme contemplated neither the reduction of the forts 
in advance nor a mortar flotilla, but the passage of the naval 
vessels and the capture of the city, when the forts would be 
compelled to surrender. Flag Officer Farragut took the bold and 
first decided views of the Department. It was his firm conviction 
that the naval steamers could run the forts without either re 
ducing or bombarding them, and it was his belief that the 
passage could be effected, and probably would be, under the 
fire of their guns, independent of the bomb flotilla. Some vessels 
would doubtless be crippled, not improbably some would be 
destroyed; but most, perhaps all, could get above the forts, and 
when the fleet was between the forts and the city their fall was 

On the 10th of February the following communication was 
addressed to Flag Officer Farragut in furtherance of the great 
object intrusted to him, General Barnard having prepared a 
memorandum and given us sketches relative to the works on the 
Mississippi, procured from the Bureau of United States Engineers: 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, February 10, 1862. 
Flag Officer D. G. FARRAGUT, U. S. N., commanding Western 
Gulf Blockading Squadron, Ship Island. 


I enclose to you herewith sketches from the United 
States Engineer Bureau relative to the works on the Missis 
sippi river; also a memorandum prepared by General Bar 
nard, United States Army, who constructed Fort St. Philip. 

Admiral Farragut qnd J^em Orleans 159 

The most important operation of the war is confided to 
yourself and your brave associates, and every light possible 
to obtain should be carefully considered before putting into 
operation the plan which your judgment dictates. 

It is reported that nineteen feet of water can be carried 
over the bar. If this is true, the frigate Mississippi can be got 
over without much difficulty. The Colorado draws about 
twenty-two feet; she lightens one inch to twenty-four tons; 
her keel is about two feet deep. The frigate Wabash when 
in New York in 1858 drew, without her spar-deck guns* 
stores, water casks, tanks, and coal (excepting thirty tons), 
aft twenty feet four inches, forward sixteen feet, or on an 
even keel eighteen feet four inches. This would indicate a 
very easy passage for this noble vessel, and if it be possible 
to get these two steamers over, and perhaps a sailing vessel 
also, you will take care to use every exertion to do so. The 
powerful tugs in the bomb flotilla will afford the necessary 
pulling power. The tops of these large steamers are from 
thirty to fifty feet above the fort, and command the parapets 
and interior completely with howitzers and musketry. The 
Wachusett at Boston; the Oneida, Richmond, Varuna, and 
Dakota at New York; and the Iroquois from the West Indies, 
are ordered to report to you with all practicable despatch, 
and every gunboat which can be got ready in time will have 
the same orders. All of the bomb vessels have sailed, and 
the steamers to accompany them are being prepared with 
great despatch. It is believed the last will be off by the 
16th instant. 

Eighteen thousand men are being sent to the Gulf to 
cooperate in the movements which will give to the arms of 
the United States full possession of the ports within the 
limits of your command. You will, however, carry out your 
instructions with regard to the Mississippi and Mobile with 
out any delay beyond that imposed upon you by your own 
careful preparation. A division from Ship Island will prob 
ably be ready to occupy the forts that will fall into your 
hands. The Department relies upon your skill to give 
direction to the powerful force placed at your disposal, and 
upon your personal character to infuse a hearty cooperation 
among your officers, free from unworthy jealousies. If suc 
cessful, you open the way to the sea for the great West, 

160 Civil War and Reconstruction 

never again to be closed. The Rebellion will be riven in 
the centre, and the flag to which you have been so faithful 
will recover its supremacy in every State. 

Very respectfully, etc., 


When Farragut was first consulted in December, and when 
he received his orders, the understanding was, as has been 
stated, that he should be aided by a military force of 10,000 men 
promised by General McClellan; but Secretary Stanton directed 
that the military force should be increased to 18,000 men. Of this 
additional assistance Flag Officer Farragut was first advised in 
the above communication of February 10, he having received 
his first orders before the Secretary of War was informed of 
the expedition, and left Washington and Hampton Roads with 
the understanding that the military aid would consist of but 
10,000 troops. 

In both these orders and in all and every communication and 
consultation which took place, the expedition was considered and 
treated as a naval expedition, originating in the Navy Depart 
ment, and commanded by a navy officer, neither the War De 
partment nor the General-in-Chief doing more than furnish 
the troops to hold what the navy might take. The programme 
and preliminary arrangements were made by the Navy Depart 
ment, and the details were carried out by the navy, although 
the historians represent it as "Butler s expedition to the Gulf," 
first suggested by the Secretary of War, who on the 28th of 
January-or 10th, according to Parton, four days before Stanton 
was Secretary "suddenly asked" General Butler, "Why can t 
New Orleans be taken?" When that question is represented to 
have been put, thousands of men had been for months employed 
and millions had been expended in preparations to solve that 

On the 20th of January, before either Secretary Stanton or 
General Butler had an intimation on the subject, Flag Officer 
Farragut received orders from the Secretary of the Navy to 
"reduce the defences which guard the approaches to New Orleans, 
when you will appear off that city and take possession of it under 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 16! 

the guns of your squadron, and hoist the American flag therein, 
keeping possession until troops can be sent to you." These orders 
were literally obeyed three months later, when Flag Officer 
Farragut on the 25th of April appeared off New Orleans with 
no military force whatever to aid him, and took possession of 
the place under the guns of his squadron on the 26th; hoisted 
the American flag and kept possession until he sent to General 
Butler to come up with his troops and occupy and govern the 
city, which he did several days after, on the 1st of May. 

General McClellan, the General in Chief, in his orders to 
General Butler on the 23d of February, more than a month 
subsequent to the orders of the Secretary of the Navy to Flag 
Officer Farragut, says. "It is expected that the navy can reduce 
the works (St. Philip and Jackson). In that case you will after 
their capture leave a sufficient garrison in them to render them 
perfectly secure." The works were not reduced, but they fell of 
necessity after the fleet got above them and the city was captured. 
This was the first naval programme, modified on the suggestion 
of Commander Porter and the advice of Generals McClellan and 
Barnard, who considered a reduction of the forts indispensable. 
There was no conflict of orders, understanding, or details, be 
tween the naval and military branch of the Government or the 
commanding officers or the forces of either; but not one of the 
several histories of the war gives a true statement of the case or 
awards to the navy or the Navy Department the credit which 
belongs to either. 

Farragut, the real commander, chieftain, and fighting man of 
the expedition, who passed the forts and captured the city, is, 
in these histories, made subordinate and second to the General 
who had been detailed to assist him, who had no plan or pro 
gramme of his own, who was in no battle, whom the Flag Officer 
invited up from below and to whom he gave possession of the 
place; while the Navy Department, which originated, planned 
shaped, and directed the whole, and would have been held re 
sponsible for it had it proved a failure, is almost wholly ignored, 
and the credit is given to persons who did not devise it, and were 
entirely ignorant of it until it was near its consummaton. It is 
but justice to General Butler to say that he has in his place on 

162 Civil War and Reconstruction 

the floor of the Congress declared that the capture of New 
Orleans was by Farragut and the navy, and not by him and the 
army. Admiral Farragut, whose high qualities and great and 
meritorious services all now admire, and which can never be 
over-estimated, in his letter of December 31, 1864, addressed to 
a committee of New York merchants who as a testimonial of 
their esteem and gratitude made him a pecuniary present with 
which he purchased a dwelling, says with equal truth and 
modesty in accepting it: "As to the duties which you speak of that 
were performed by myself in command of the fleet in the South 
and Southwest, I have only to say, as I have repeatedly said be 
fore, that they were done in obedience to orders from the De 
partment at Washington. I have carried out the views of the 
Department in accomplishing what I promised to endeavor 
to do/* 

The Confederate authorities at Richmond, who believed the 
lower defenses of the river impregnable, were astonished with 
the intelligence that the forts had been passed and New Orleans 
had fallen. They had not anticipated a naval attack, nor be 
lieved in the possibility of naval success if an attack were made. 
The preparations for the expedition, which commenced in 
November, had been carried forward for four months without 
creating alarm or exciting in that quarter suspicion. Not until 
the latter part of March did the rebel Genersd Lovell, in com 
mand of the city, entertain apprehensions of the impending blow. 
Even then the Confederate Government at Richmond, as well 
as Beauregard at Corinth, were wholly incredulous and deaf to 
his appeals. Their attention and efforts were in the opposite 
direction, where General Halleck and others were organized 
for a descent from the north. A few brief extracts from the 
official report of General Lovell, written on the 22d of May, 
a month after the passing of the forts, opens to us the true con 
dition of affairs as they existed prior to and at the time of the 
capture of the city. He says: "I applied to Richmond, Pensacola, 
and other points for some 10-inch columbiads and sea-coast 
mortars, which I considered necessary to the defence of the lower 
river, but none could be spared; the general impression being 
that New Orleans would not be attacked by the river. . . . The 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 16$ 

forts had seventy-five or eighty guns that could be brought 
successively to bear on the river, were manned by garrisons of 
well-trained artillerists, affording a double relief to eadi gun, 
and commanded by officers who had no superiors in any serv 
ice. . . . The general impression of all those to whom I applied 
was, that the largest guns should be placed above New Orleans, 
not below, although I had notified the Department on the 22d 
of March that in my judgment the fleet only awaited the arrival 
of the mortar vessels to attempt to pass up the river from be 
low. . . . Every Confederate soldier in New Orleans, with the 
exception of one company, had been ordered to Corinth, to 
join General Beauregard in March. . . . The fourteen vessels of 
Montgomery river defence expedition had been ordered by the 
Department, when completed, to be sent up to Memphis and Fort 
Pillow; but believing the danger of attack from below, I detained 
six of them at New Orleans, of which change the Department 
was fully advised. . . . When the Secretary of the Navy ordered 
the steamer Louisiana to be sent also up the river, I protested, 
through the War Department, being satisfied that we required 
more heavy guns below. ... A few moments after the attack 
commenced, and the enemy succeeded in passing with fourteen 
ships, as described in General Duncan s report, and the battle 
of New Orleans as against ships of war was over. . . . The battle 
for the defence of New Orleans was fought and lost at Forts 
Jackson and St. Philip." The apprehensions of General Lovell 
were first excited, as Farragut apprehended they would be, by 
the mortar flotilla. He at once commenced preparations for de 
fence from a naval attack, and made appeals to his superiors for 
assistance to avert the threatened danger so soon as he learned 
that the mortar fleet had reached Key West. This was what 
Farragut would have avoided by dispensing with the mortar 
fleet. The bombardment would, in his opinion, inflect less 
injury than we supposed, while such a fleet would impede his 
movements, excite suspicion, arouse vigilance, and lead to prep 
arations for a more formidable defence. 

But, finding the matter had been decided upon before he 
was selected or consulted, he acquiesced in that part of the 
programme, gave the mortar fleet place and opportunity, and 

164 Civil War and Reocmstraotion 

generously awarded the flotilla credit for its power, and the 
eneigy and skill with which the mortars were served. Their fire 
through six days was tremendous, but did less injury to the forts 
and inflicted less loss of life than seemed possible after such a 
fire as they endured. Fort St. Philip was scarcely damaged, and 
Fort Jackson, which sustained the principal assault, was, not 
withstanding the barracks were burned, about as formidable at 
the dose as at the commencement. General Duncan, who was 
in command of the defences, admits his men were demoralized 
after Farragut and the naval vessels had passed the forts, but 
wrote on the 27th of April, before the forts surrendered: "We 
are just as capable of repelling the enemy to-day as we were 
before the bombardment/ 

There can be no doubt that the tactics of Farragut were 
correct; that the mortar fleet was, as he apprehended, a warn 
ing to the enemy, and that it to some extent embarrassed his 
operations. That division of his force, however, if it did not ac 
complish all that was promised and expected, was well com 
manded, and the mortars were well served. Probably no equal 
number of mortars ever expended a greater amount of ammuni 
tion and shells in the same space of time, or fired more accurate 
ly, but as regards the fire of the enemy and their power of 
resistance the bombardment was ineffectual. But Farragut was 
resolved that this part of the programme which was not of his 
advisement, should have full scope and full opportunity to 
display its power, and, if possible, destroy or impair the works. 
He therefore suspended his movements for six days; gave Com 
mander Porter, with the mortars, not only the forty-eight hours 
which were represented to be sufficient to demolish or render 
untenable the forts, but twice and thrice that number of hours 
to do the work. At length, after a tremendous bombardment for 
six days, when the men were overcome with fatigue, and the 
ammunition and shells of the mortar flotilla were nearly ex 
pended without seriously diminishing the enemy s fire, Flag 
Officer Farragut put in execution his own bold plan, which was 
also the original programme of the Navy Department, and passed 
the forts "under a most terrific fire," says Commander Porter, 
who witnessed it from below. "Such a fire I imagine the world 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 165 

has rarely seen/* said Farragut. Had the works been seriously 
damaged, this could hardly have been the case. Captain Bailey* 
second in command, states that "the mortar fleet had been play 
ing upon the forts for six days and nights without perceptibly 
diminishing their fire"; in fact, the enemy was "daily adding to 
his defences" during the entire bombardment. That Commander 
Porter did not succeed, as he promised and expected, in re 
ducing the forts in forty-eight hours, was not owing to any want 
of energy, courage, or perseverance on his part and that of his 
gallant associates, but to an error of judgment and misconception 
of the effects of shells falling upon a casemate fort. 

In the end such a fort must undoubtably yield to a con 
tinued bombardment, but not in forty-eight hours, nor in one 
hundred and forty-eight hours, as was demonstrated to the satis 
faction of every officer in the squadron. During those six days, 
the rebel naval defences, the ironclads, the fire rafts, the rams 
and obstructions which really constituted the peril to Farragut s 
fleet were increased by every hour s delay. The enemy improved 
the time from the arrival of the first mortar boat at Key West 
in augmenting his defences. That arrival indicated the plan of 
attack; he took alarm, commenced preparations, and then and 
through the six days of bombardment he was stimulated to his 
utmost energies to resist the advance of the squadron. Com 
mander Porter says in his official report, after one hundred and 
forty-four hours of incessant fire from the mortars, the enemy 
was "daily adding to his defence and strengthening his naval 
forces with iron-clad batteries." This was what Flag Officer 
Farragut, with keen professional sagacity, had predicted; but 
the veteran hero, in deference to others, to the policy adopted, 
and to the extraordinary efforts of the Department, which had 
got up the mortar flotilla on the recommendation of Com 
mander Porter and the army officers, submitted to the delay, 
although it added to the difficulties he was to encounter. With 
a generosity characteristic of the man, he, after the assault was 
over, abstained from any censure or reflection on those who 
differed with him and had caused a deviation from the original 
naval programme, which he pronounced, and which the result 
proved, was correct. If he could not commend the mortar scheme 

166 Civil War and Reconstruction 

for such a work as was given him, he forbore from any public 
condemnation of it in his official reports. He spoke of the "tre 
mendous fire" on the forts "from the mortars," remarked that 
"Commander Porter most gallantly bombarded them"; but 
while the mortars failed to seriously impair the defences, Flag 
Officer Farragut is studiously careful not to say, as did the 
second officer in command, it was "without perceptibly diminish 
ing their fire." He knew the fact, but from delicacy would not 
proclaim it. The result was sufficient; the problem of running the 
forts and the effect of bombarding them was solved. The lesson 
in the Mississippi and at Port Royal and Hatteras teaches that 
as against naval steamers forts are useless, unless connected with 
some system of obstruction, and that their passage will never 
be attended with much risk or danger. 

The official report of Commander Porter, made to the Secre 
tary of the Navy direct, instead of the Flag Officer, represented 
the injuries by the bombardment as much more effective than is 
admitted by Generals Lovell and Duncan, and as was testified 
by the terrific fire of the forts when the fleet passed up. The 
reports of the Confederate generals, which correct some apparent 
discrepancies that could not at the time be reconciled, did not 
come into my hands until after the close of the rebellion. There 
was an alleged inconsistency in the representation that the de 
fences were seriously impaired with the fact that there was a 
"terrific fire," tremendous and unabated, when the passage was 
finally made. While Flag Officer Farragut was conscious that 
his tactics and professional talents and sagacity were fully vindi 
cated by what had been done, and what had failed to be done, 
he was not stinted in his award of credit to the brave men who 
had been employed in the mortar service, but gave to every man 
the honor he earned. 

In his official report of April 30th, Commander Porter says: 
"On the 23d I urged Flag Officer Farragut to commence the 
attack with the ships, as I feared the mortars would not hold 
out, the men were almost overcome with fatigue, and our supply 
ships lay a good way off." Had this report been made, as is usual 
and as regulations require, to the Flag Officer instead of the 

Admiral Farmgut and New Orleans 167 

Department, this statement would never have appeared. Those 
of us who knew the facts^ the feelings and views of Fairagiif^ Ms 
dauntless courage and iron will when once engaged, Ms. desire 
to dispense with the mortar flotilla which embarrassed Ms 
movements and restrained his prompt, impulsive action, any 
statement that he delayed, or which conveys the impression that 
he hesitated at the critical moment to execute his own plan, had 
little effect. He needed no urging from any one to move- 
certainly not from one who from the first had advised that the 
forts should be reduced before the passage of the fleet was 
attempted. It would be reversing the position, plan, and tactics of 
the Flag Officer and the commander of the mortar fleet. 

In justice to Farragut and to truth, I think it proper here to 
present the advice and proposition wMch Commander Porter 
submitted preceding the attack and the passage of the forts: 
"In my opinion there are two methods of attack: one is for the 
vessels to run the gauntlet of the batteries by night, or in a 
fog; the other, to attack the forts by laying the big ships dose 
alongside of them, avoiding the casemates, firing shells, grape, 
and canister into the barbette, clearing the ramparts with boat 
guns from the tops, while the smaller and more agile vessels 
throw in shrapnel at shrapnel distance, clearing the parapets 
and dismounting the guns in barbette. The large ships should 
anchor with forty-five fathoms of chain with slip-ropes; the 
smaller vessels to keep under way, and be constantly moving 
about, some to get above, and open a cross fire; the mortars to 
keep up a rapid and continuous fire, and to move up to a 
shorter range. The objections to running by the forts are these: 
It is not likely that any intelligent enemy would fail to place 
chain across above the forts, and raise such batteries as would 
protect them against our ships. Did we run the forts we should 
leave an enemy in our rear, and the mortar vessels would have 
to be left behind. We could not return to bring them up without 
going through a heavy and destructive fire. If the forts are run, 
part of the mortars should be towed along, wMch would render 
the progress of the vessels slow, against the strong current at 
that point. If the forts are first captured, the moral effect would 

168 Civil War and Reconstruction 

be to dose the batteries on the river and open the way to New 
Orleans; whereas if we don t succeed in taking them, we will 
have to fight our way up the river. Once having possession of 
the forts, New Orleans would be hermetically sealed, and we 
could repair damages and go on our own terms and in our own 

Flag Officer Farragut s order of battle, which is among the 
published documents relating to passage of the forts and the bat 
tle itself, shows that he adopted none of these suggestions. He 
did not yield to the advice that "the large ships should anchor 
with forty-five fathoms of chain," "the smaller vessels to be con 
tinually moving about/ nor did he deem it expedient that "part 
of the mortar vessels should be towed along" when he passed 
the forts, nor did he "return to bring them up." His tactics, or 
mode, as he expresses it, were of a bolder, more audacious, and 
wholly different character. He left the mortar vessels behind 
him as an incumbrance, anchored no vessels, but dashed on 
amid flame and smoke, danger and death, under a terrific fire 
such as the world has seldom witnessed, and performed one of 
the most wonderful and daring achievements recorded in history. 

Commander Porter beheld from below this terrible but suc 
cessful performance of his chief, who cast aside all the schemes 
and advice which had been tendered him for reducing the forts 
and opening the way for his ships without encountering what 
appeared to less resolute minds destruction and death. After 
witnessing the great success, which was in total disregard of his 
propositions, and after hearing that New Orleans was captured 
by his triumphant chief, Commander Porter wrote the Navy 
Department that he urged the Flag Officer to make the attack 
on the 23d. Ten days later he wrote an unofficial letter to the 
Assistant Secretary, reiterating the statement that he had urged 
the Flag Officer to make the attack, but requested that the state* 
ment might be suppressed in the published documents. The De 
partment declined to multilate and change the record, and omit 
a statement the truth of which was deliberately and secretly reaf 
firmed by the author. 

Farragut, who was as generous and forgiving as he was brave 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 169 

and resolute, saw with less surprise than regret the extraordinary 
statement of Commander Porter. He had no apprehensions, how 
ever, that the truth would not ultimately appear. The Depart 
ment and all familiar with the expedition, he said, were aware 
of his views and tactics from the beginning; that he had never 
believed in reducing the forts before passing them, or anchoring 
his vessels in the attack, and was entirely opposed to the mortar 
flotilla which Commander Porter and the army officers had so 
much at heart, and which the Department on their recommenda 
tion had adopted as indispensable. 

In a letter to me on this and other subjects at a later period 
he said: "I was ordered to Washington, when the Department 
informed me I should have all the vessels I desired and many 
more, inculding a number of mortar boats. To this I replied I 
did not want the latter, as they would be more in my way than 
otherwise, as I felt satisfied they would be an impediment in 
my mode of attack. I presume this was the origin of my supposed 
opposition to the mortar boats. But as the Department seemed to 
think they were indispensable and had provided gunboats to tow 
and protect them in every emergency, I made no further objec 

It is not part of my present purpose to enter upon or narrate 
the battles and incidents of the expedition. These have been else 
where related in the official reports of the officers themselves. 
But the capture of the city was not the conclusion of the expedi 
tion nor the completion of Flag Officer Farragut s instructions. 

It will be recollected that the orders of the Secretary of the 
Navy of the 20th of January directed him after the capture of 
New Orleans: "If the Mississippi expedition from Cairo shall 
not have descended the river, you will take advantage of the 
panic to push a strong force up the river to take all their defen 
ces in the rear." This was an important part of the programme 
and of his original orders. In pursuance of them, Flag Officer Far 
ragut, immediately after taking the city, sent forward a detach 
ment of seven vessels up the river under Captain Craven, to obtain 
possession of the intermediate places between him and the flo 
tilla from Cairo, which, with the army, was by arrangement to 

170 Civil War and Reconstruction 

descend the Mississippi and meet and form a junction with the 
naval force from the Gulf. On the 7th of May, Commander 
James S. Palmer, in the steamer Iroquois, appeared off Baton 
Rouge, and was followed by Flag Officer Farragut himself and 
a military force on the 10th. The place surrendered, as did Natch 
ez, Fort Hudson, and Grand Gulf, soon after, and indeed every 
Intermediate place on the river except Vicksburg, to which Com 
mander S. P. Lee had been sent in advance in the Oneida. This 
place, in consequence of its elevated site, made a large cooperating 
military force necessary to take possession of and occupy the 

To give the details of the harassing river conflicts and the 
many perplexities and disappointments which, in consequence of 
inadequate military support, attended the naval operations in 
the Mississippi, is not here essential. The expected army aid from 
the north totally failed to meet the ascending squadron, although 
the steamers from Cairo under Flag Officer Davis, the successor 
of the heroic Foote, met and formed a junction with the vessels 
from the Gulf squadron. In all respects and in every particular, 
both the Gulf squadron and the Mississippi flotilla performed 
their parts and did all that the Navy Department had promised, 
or the Government required or expected, to carry out the 
original programme. For two months after the capture of New 
Orleans, Flag Officer Farragut remained on protracted and un 
pleasant duty on the river at or near Vicksburg, waiting the 
promised approach of an army from the north. But he waited 
in vain. One or two brief extracts from his patient, uncomplain 
ing letters indicate the character of the man and the actual 
condition of affairs: 

June 28, 1862, } 

Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy, 
Washington, D. C. 


I passed up the river this morning, but to no purpose; 
the enemy leave their guns for the moment, but return to 
them as soon as we have passed and rake us. ... 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 171 

I am satisfied it Is not possible for us to take Vicksburg 
without an army force of 12,000 to 15,000 men. General 
Van Dorn s division Is here, and lies safely behind the hills. 
The water Is too low for me to go over twelve or fifteen 
miles above Vicksburg. 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 


On the 6th of July he wrote me from "above Vicksburg": "I 
have to inform you that we are still at this place, bombarding 
the peninsula. ... I received a telegram yesterday from General 
Halleck (a copy of it is herewith enclosed), by which it appears 
that he will not be able to cooperate wiht us for some weeks yet." 

The following is the telegram from General Halleck referred 
to in the above extract: 

MEMPHIS, July 3, 1862. 

[By telegraph from Corinth.] 

Flag Officer FARRAGUT, commanding United States flotilla 
in the Mississippi. 

The scattered and weakened condition of my forces ren 
ders it impossible for me at the present to detach any troops 
to cooperate with you on Vicksburg. Probably I shall be able 
to do so as soon as I can get my troops more concentrated; 
this may delay the clearing of the river, but its accomplish 
ment will be certain in a few weeks. 

Allow me to congratulate you on your great success. 

H. W. HALLECK, Major-General. 

The troops were never so concentrated under General Halleck 
as to cooperate with the navy at Vicksburg. From causes which 
it is unnecessary here to relate, there was a total failure on the 
part of the army to carry out and complete their part of the origi 
nal programme of the New Orleans and Mississippi expedition. 
A year s delay, with much national depression and great loss to 
the country, was the consequence. 

When finally informed of the Inability of the army to carry 

172 Civil War and Reconstruction 

out their part of the campaign, I, in view of the subsiding of 
the waters in the Mississippi, which endangered the safety of the 
vessels, the sickly climate, and the necessity of operations else 
where, wrote Flag Officer Farragut a communication from which 
I make the following extracts: 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, July 14, 1862. 
Flag Officer D. G. FARRAGUT, commanding, 
etc., near VIcksburg, Miss. 


The evacuation of Corinth has much lessened the impor 
tance of your continuing your operations on the Mississippi. 
The army has failed to furnish the necessary troops for the 
capture of Vicksburg, and has not at present, It is repre 
sented, an available force to send there to cooperate with 
you in its capture. . . . All proper measures should be 
adopted to get the part of your fleet now above Vicksburg 
below that place, with as little injury and loss of life as 

Nothing is to be gained by a contest with the batteries 
of the enemy. . . . 

I am respectfully, your obedient servant, 


On the 29th of July Flag Officer Farragut wrote me from 
New Orleans: 

July 29, 1862. } 

Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy, 
Washington, D. C. 


I am happy to inform the Department that I arrived here 
yesterday about noon with the ships Brooklyn, Richmond, 
and Hartford, and gunboats Pinola and Kennebec, the other 
gunboats, excepting the Katahdin and Kineo, left at Baton 
Rouge for the protection of the troops, having preceded me. 

On the 20th instant I received the order of the Depart 
ment to drop the ships down the river, and not risk them 
before the batteries more than possible. The river had fal- 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 173 

leu very much, and my anxiety was great that I should not 
be able to get the large ships down 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 


Flag Officer commanding Western Gulf Blockading 

Further military operations in the direction of Vicksburg were 
for the season suspended, not, however, through any defect in the 
original programme, or any mismanagement or failure on the 
part of the navy or the Navy Department. Flag Officer Farragut 
did all that was required of him, that he promised to do, and 
more than was believed by many possible for him to accomplish. 
If the country did not gain possession of Vicksburg or capture 
Mobile in 1862, it was through no fault or failure of the Navy 
Department or of the naval commander, who was ready at all 
times to meet and cooperate with the army for that purpose. 

The War Department, after the reverses before Richmond 
in the summer of 1862, became paralyzed and appeared for a time 
to lose interest in the Mississippi movement. Its attention was 
more earnestly engaged elsewhere. But the Navy Department 
was unwilling to relinquish the advantages it had gained, even 
after General Halleck s despatch from Corinth, followed by its 
own orders for the vessels to drop below Vicksburg. In these 
views of the Department Flag Officer Farragut participated, and 
after descending the river he lingered some days in the lower 

Before leaving Vicksburg for New Orleans, he made arrange 
ments for Commodore William D. Porter to remain with the 
iron-clad steamers Essex and Sumter, of the Mississippi flotilla, 
below Vicksburg, to keep open the navigation of the river, and 
cooperate with any military force, should any be sent. Commodore 
William D. Porter was a brother of Commander David D. 
Porter, with whom he is often confounded, and brother-in-law 
of Admiral Farragut, they having married sisters. He was a man 
of undaunted courage, and had distinguished himself under 
Flag Officer Foote on the Western waters, particularly at Forts 
Henry, Columbus, and other places, at the former of which he 

174 Civil War and Reoonstruction 

sustained severe injuries. On the 16th of July the rebel iron-clad 
ram Arkansas, a formidable vessel, came out of the Yazoo, and, 
dashing through the fleet which lay at anchor with low fires, 
wholly unprepared, she inflicted some damage on the vessels, 
and hastened to take refuge under the guns of Vicksburg. A 
gallant attempt was made on the 22d of July by Commodore 
W. D. Porter to destroy her under the fire of the rebel batteries, 
but not succeeding, he then ran down with his vessels to Flag 
Officer Farragut s command. A rebel force, under General Breck- 
inridge, made an assault on Baton Rouge a few days after, and 
the Arkansas left Vicksburg to assist in the attack, but was met 
by Commodore W. D. Porter in the Essex, run ashore, and de 
stroyed. The destruction of this formidable monster gave great 
satisfaction to the service and the country. Flag Officer Farragut 
wrote the Department: 

August 7, 1862. j" 

Hon. GIBEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy, 
Washington, D. C. 


It is one of the happiest moments of my life that I am 
enabled to inform the Department of the destruction of the 
ram Arkansas; not because I held the ironclad in such terror, 
but because the community did. ... I arrived here to-day at 
12 M., in company with the Brooklyn, Westfield, Clifton, 
Jackson, and Scioto. I had sent up the Clifton before. . . . 
I will leave a sufficient force of gunboats here to support 
the army, and will return to-morrow to New Orleans and 
depart immediately for Ship Island with a light heart that 
I have left no bugbear to torment the comimmities of the 
Mississippi in my absence. 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

D. G. FARRAGUT, Flag Officer. 

Foreseeing the disastrous consequences which must result 
from an abandonment of the advantages which the navy had 
obtained on the Mississippi, and that the rebels would hasten 
to fortify and strengthen themselves at Vicksburg and other 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 175 

places where they were then weak, thereby interrupting the 
navigation of the river, and keeping open their communication 
with Texas, from whence they derived immense supplies, I 
urged decisive measures, and finally on the 2th of July addressed 
the Secretary of War a letter on the subject; from which I make 
the following extracts: 

NAVY DEPARTMENT, July 29, 1862. 
Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War. 


. . . The long detention of so large a naval force before 
Vicksburg, in consequence of the absence of a sufficient land 
force to cooperate with the navy in taking and holding the 
place, is, I am aware, a source of regret to you as well as 
to myself. 

It is a pressing necessity that so important a place should 
not be held by the rebels. While it is in their possession it not 
only interrupts navigation and keeps our squadron unem 
ployed, but impairs its efficiency in cutting off communica 
tion and transportation of stores and troops to sustain the 

enemy We cannot have a rigid river police and effective 

interdiction between the opposite shores while Vicksburg 
remains an obstacle to prevent or at least retard operations. 
I would invite especial attention to the remarks in relation 
to General Williams and his force, and the opinion ex 
pressed that he can go anywhere thirty miles into the interior 
below Vicksburg, and, supported by the gunboats, destroy 
the enemy s stores, capture the cattle they have grazing, and 
be instrumental in keeping open the river. 

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 


Frequent personal interviews took place and were wasted in 
vain efforts to procure military cooperation to carry out to full 
consummation the programme of the campaign in conformity 
with the original understanding. These interviews need not be 
more particularly specifed, but the documents on file in the 
departments, from which brief extracts are given, verify the 
statements which are made. 

176 Civil War and Reconstruction 

Unquestionably, the passage of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, 
with the capture of New Orleans, was not only the most im 
portant of the three naval expeditions commenced the first year 
of the rebellion, but was the memorable event of the war. It was 
a blow at the heart of the Confederacy when in its full vigor and 
strength, before the rebels had become enfeebled and exhausted 
a blow from which they never recovered. In that great achieve 
ment Farragut stands out the grand, imposing figure, and his 
high, heroic daring, and the tact and ability he displayed as a 
commander, will make him, when the true history of the war 
is written, conspicuous beyond others through all time. Attempts 
have been made to award honors that are justly his to others, and 
by some to appropriate to themselves credit which belongs to 

I have here related the essential facts of the origin and com 
mand of the three important expeditions instituted by the Navy 
Department in the first year of the war, and especially of that 
memorable one where the great naval chief earned the honors 
which placed him at the head of the Navy. Of subsequent daring 
and scarcely less important services at Grand Gulf and Port 
Hudson in 1863, and Mobile in 1864 at which last place he was 
neither aided nor incumbered by mortar flotillas, but where on 
each occasion he exhibited those remarkable qualities which 
distinguish and exemplify the great commander I have not 
made mention. They must be reserved for another occasion. 

It is to be regretted that the last days of this brave, truthful, 
amiable, and exemplary man, for whom his countrymen had, and 
always will retain, a deep and abiding affection and regard, 
should have been subjected to petty annoyances from a few who 
were envious of his fame, or incapable of doing him justice. 
Although honored and loved by his countrymen and at the head 
of the navy, he does not appear to have had the confidence of 
those who administered its affairs for the last eighteen months 
of his life, or to have been consulted in matters which personally 
and officially interested and legitimately belonged to him as 
naval chief. Great changes were made in the service without his 
knowledge and against his judgment. He was compelled to receive 
orders which notoriously emanated from one of inferior rank. 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 177 

The office of Admiral, which Congress had created for him in 
acknowledgment of his distinguished and unequalled service^ 
was, he saw, destined by favoritism to pass to another. In various 
ways ignoble and ungenerous minds hastened to mortify the 
great and unassuming naval chief. In derogation of his real rank 
and position as chief and head of the navy, he was made Port 
Admiral or usher, to wait upon and receive naval officers at 
New York, an employment which self-respect and regard for the 
navy compelled him to decline. Among other indignities was 
that of ordering the uniform and the flag of Admiral which he 
had adopted when the Government created and conferred on him 
the office to be changed, and substituting therefor a different 
uniform and another flag, wholly unlike the coat he wore, and 
unlike the symbol of rank which was identified with Mm, and 
from the time the office was created had floated above him. Far 
ragut would neither change his coat nor permit the tawdry sub 
stitute for the Admiral flag to wave over him. On his special, 
personal application, which he felt humiliated to make, the 
Secretary of the Navy permitted him to be spared these indigni 
ties during his life, but it was with the knowledge that the flag 
which he had earned the emblem he had chosen and prescribed 
as the symbol of highest naval rank was to be buried with him. 
It would be painful to dwell on the many annoyances to which 
this brave and noble officer was subjected during the last few 
months of his existence. 

"There is a tear for all that die, 
A mourner o er the humblest grave; 

But nations swell the funeral cry, 

And triumph weeps above the brave." 

The people throughout the Union mourned the death of the 
good Admiral, Thousands from the surrounding country crowded 
around his bier at Portsmouth, but high official dignitaries were 
not there. Neglect of the remains of the great naval chief and of 
his family marked the close. The expenses of his funeral, which 
was necessarily public at Portsmouth, where he died, were borne 
by his widow, who has never been remunerated or noticed by 
the Government. She, who fled with him from her home and 

178 Civil Wax and Reconstruction 

native State, became with him an exile and shared his fortune 
and privations in a simple hired cottage on the Hudson, now 
lives in a house purchased with the funds contributed by a few 
private citizens of New York in grateful acknowledgment for his 
heroic and patriotic services. Those services were unsurpassed, 
and the personal perils he encountered were unequalled by those 
of any military or naval commander. He was exposed to greater 
dangers in many battles than any general officer in the field, but 
when he died his pay died with him. His widow has received no 
recognition or pension. Most naval officers studiously prepared 
and presented their prize daims, and some have been enriched 
with large amounts of prize money. Farragut, in his unselfish 
patriotism, which called out all his energies and all his time, was 
neglectful of self and fortune. He never received a dollar of 
prize money for the conquest of New Orleans, where more ex 
tensive captures were made than in any battle of the war. In the 
day and period when these events took place, Congress and his 
grateful countrymen cheerfully awarded him their highest honors, 
but official slight and neglect attended his last days. Notwith 
standing official neglect, the American people revere the mem 
ory of one of the most truthful, heroic, exemplary, unselfish and 
devoted patriots the country ever had in its service, and grate 
fully remember his many signal achievements. 

The people of New York adopted Farragut, who came among 
them to abide the fortunes of the republic. They respected and 
honored him as first among our heroes while living, and for 
getting all differences united in a public demonstration of 
mournful regard on the reception of his remains, which were 
brought from Portsmouth for interment. The municipal govern 
ment of the metropolis gave the great naval chief what the 
national Government did not, a public funeral. Many of the 
high dignitaries whose previous neglect had called out ex 
pressions of popular disapproval followed in the train on this 
occasion, and did homage to the man and hero. 

It is but a simple duty to Farragut, Du Pont, and Stringham, 
that their position and their acts in these memorable expeditions, 
which they respectively commanded, should be rightly recorded; 
and, in the same connection, the truth in regard to the origin 

Admiral Farragut and New Orleans 179 

of eacti of those enterprises should appear. Had either of them 
failed, the Navy Department, which projected them, but has 
received little or no credit for either, would have been held re 
sponsible and blamed. But slight of the navy and abuse of the 
Navy Department were not unusual with partisan writers of the 
period. Many of the events of that day are misstated and the 
actors in them wronged and misrepresented. They will, perhaps, 
never be correctly understood; for besides the Rebellion, which 
broke up old associations, and aside from interested personal 
motives which influenced many, there were party and personal 
animosities and friendships to warp the minds and bias the 
judgments of most of the writers, who hasten to publish their 
own partialities and prejudices, which they denominate histories 
of those occurrences and those times. 


Lincoln and Johnson 


The Johnson Plan of Reconstruction was launched 
when the President published his North Carolina Procla 
mation, which set forth easy conditions for the re- 
admission of the former Confederate States into the 
Union. As a supporter of this plan, Welles here at 
tempts to demonstrate its similarity to Lincoln s scheme 
of reconstruction* Because of Secretary of War Stanton s 
collaboration with the radicals, Welles emphasizes Stan- 
ton s part in drawing up the original Proclamation. 


IKE MEASURES adopted by the Government to promote 
peace and reestablish the Union during the last days of President 
Lincoln s and the early months of President Johnson s administra 
tion, have been much misrepresented, and by many seem to be 
still imperfectly understood. No change of policy took place, nor 
was there any interruption in the conduct of public affairs, by 
the untimely death of Mr. Lincoln and the accession of his suc 
cessor. Mr. Johnson accepted the situation, and entered upon 
his duties with an earnest and sincere desire to carry forward to 
a speedy consummation the plan and intentions of his predecessor 
for the restoration of the Federal Government to its full consti 
tutional authority, the States each to their rightful position, the 

The Galaxy, XIII (April, 1872). 

Lincoln and Johnson 181 

people to their Inherent rights, and the Union to all its strength 
and beneficence. No full and authentic record has been, made of 
the occurrences of that important period, when the Executive 
Department was in a transition state and the country was just 
emerging from a civil war. The day has not perhaps arrived for 
an impartial history of those times. The resentments which grew 
out of the war and the partisan strife of the preceding twenty 
years are interwoven with those occurrences, and still remain to 
tinge with partiality or prejudice any narrative that may he at 

The two Presidents, Lincoln and Johnson, were of dissimilar 
temperaments, different mental structure, and though associated 
in the great Union contest and elected on the same ticket, they 
had been trained in opposing political parties. There were, how 
ever, many points in which there was a resemblance. Both were 
self-made men, neither of them had early educational advantages, 
both were sons of poverty, each had early struggles to encounter 
in frontier life to obtain position, and each won the confidence 
and respect of his associates and the community which knew him 
best. One was from the prairies of Illinois the other from the 
mountain region of Tennessee. Both were admired for their kind 
ness of heart, their honest sincerity, their patriotism and incor 
ruptible integrity. Mr. Lincoln had, with much strength of pur 
pose, a genial nature, a facile mind and pliant disposition. Mr. 
Johnson was reserved but urbane, firm and inflexible in his prin 
ciples, stern and unbending in maintaining his convictions. While 
each had the characteristics of frontier men, there was a kindly 
suavity on the part of Mr. Lincoln which softened and recon 
ciled even those with whom he disgreed; but there was a straight 
forward and blunt sincerity on the part of Mr. Johnson, of 
which his opponents took advantage, often to his injury. The 
early political and party associations of Mr. Lincoln had been 
with the Whigs. His first vote was for Henry Clay, whose po 
litical oratory and magnetic party declamation drew into his 
support so many of the young men of the West Led away by 
impulse rather than reflection, by personal enthusiasm, and not 
by conviction or much thought on the really grave and pro 
found political questions involved in the conflict of parties, he 

jgo Civil War and Reconstruction 

drifted into the Whig organization, and commenced political life 
a nominal centralist, with admiration of the "American System" 
and of a powerful and magnificent General Government. 

Time, reflection, and maturer years tempered his enthusiasm 
and modified his feelings. He did not wholly relinquish his party 
obligations, but investigation, discussion, and responsibility had 
wrought a change in his views. Aside from personal admiration 
of the eloquent Whig champion, which lingered in his mind 
a pleasant remembrance, and apart from association which begets 
attachment, Mr. Lincoln in his later years retained but little 
zeal for Whig doctrines. When elected, and during his administra 
tion, he was sincerely and conscientiously, in feeling and princi 
ple, a constitutionalist, a Federal republican, a friend of State 
rights, and in his general views an opponent of consolidation. 
Observation and experience made him less a centralist and more 
a State rights republican than he had been in his earlier days. 
If the exigencies of the war impelled him to exercise extra 
ordinary and sometimes doubtful powers, he lamented the neces 
sity, and became more and more an admirer of our federative 
system, and in his convictions an earnest constitutionalist. 

During the winter of 1864 and 1865, after Sherman s success 
ful march to the sea and after the fall of Fort Fisher, the ex 
piring days of the Confederacy were manifest and the end not 
distant. President Lincoln foresaw the result, and anticipated 
with undisguised satisfaction the time, then rapidly approaching, 
when the General Government would be able to dispense with 
the exercise of arbitrary and questionable authority, the States 
could each and all resume their true position and their rights 
in the administration and direction of public affairs, and the 
people again become reconciled, contented, and at peace. In the 
early months of 1865 he frequently expressed his opinion that 
the condition of affairs in the rebel States was deplorable, and 
did not conceal his apprehension that, unless immediately at 
tended to, they would, in consequence of their disturbed civil, 
social, and industrial relations, be worse after the rebellion was 

That event was obviously near at hand, and he enjoined upon 
those who were associated with him in administering the govern- 

Lincoln nd Johnson 185 

ment, and occupying stations of responsibility, to be prepared 
to discharge their novel and important duties intelligently, 
benignantly, and for the best interests of the country. The im 
poverishment of the people of those States by a long and ex 
hausting war; the negroes emancipated, but ignorant and in 
capable of providing for themselves; alienations and difficulties 
between them and their former masters; new and grave questions 
between labor and capital, the employer and the employed, the 
landholder and the landless, the master and the servant; the 
danger of conflicts between the different classes not only of 
whites and blacks, but between the rich whites and the poor 
whites, the free blacks and the late slaves, domestic servants and 
field hands these were matters that pressed upon alL The 
President alluded to them in Cabinet meetings and in private 
conversations, together with the consequences which in all wars 
have resulted from the sudden disbandment of great armies, even 
where there were not domestic and social disturbances and de 
rangements such as existed at the South. In consequence of the 
insurrection the legal civil governments of the States of the 
South had been suspended or overthrown, and there must neces- 
sarily be a revival and restoration of the old governments, or a 
reconstruction, by which their interrupted and broken relations 
with the Union might be reestablished. One of the first move 
ments, therefore, would necessarily be the establishment of civil 
government in each of the States, so that there should be a 
legitimate legislature to enact laws, and a legal executive and 
judiciary to restrain crime, enforce obedience, and preserve civil 
and social order. Grime, as far as possible, must be prevented and 
punished; and if on the suppression of the rebellion the armies 
broke up and portions were enlisted into robber bands and 
guerilla parties, which he greatly feared, instant measures must 
be adopted to arrest and punish the offenders. It was essential 
that these matters should be brought within the scope of the 
local civil tribunals, and that the people should not depend 
upon the military to secure and maintain peace and domestic 
tranquility. Let the people who have been under Confederate 
despotism learn to take care of themselves under this dispensa 
tion, as in former years, and the great principles which underlie 

184 Civil War and Reconstruction 

our civil fabric will vindicate themselves wthout a resort to 
force and arbitrary power. 

He dreaded and deprecated violent and revengeful feelings, 
or any malevolent demonstrations toward those of our country 
men who were involved, voluntarily or involuntarily, in the 
rebellion. The leaders, he believed, would flee the country when 
they became satisfied their cause was hopless. He often expressed 
a wish that they might be facilitated in their escape, and no 
strenuous efforts made to prevent their egress. This was more 
strongly enjoined upon me, perhaps, than upon any other mem 
ber of the Cabinet, by reason of the blockade, which was rigidly 
enforced. In consequence of the fall of Wilmington, ocean com 
munication with the rebels had almost entirely ceased, and 
escape by water was extremely difficult. 

In the latter part of March, about the 22d or 23d of that 
month, the President left Washington and went to the front, 
One of the alleged objects in his going was to relieve himself 
of the immense throng of Congressmen and others which was 
besetting him for office, at a period when his mind and thoughts 
were engaged on more important and responsible duties than 
the mere bestowal of party patronage. The rebellion was drawing 
to a close, and he anticipated that his visit to army headquarters 
might be productive of benefits in that regard. 

His stay at City Point and with the army was protracted, and 
attended with some inconveniences to the departments. The 
Secretary of State went to see him, but promptly returnedthe 
President did not desire the presence of any of his Cabinet. His 
great object was clemency to the rebels and peace to the country. 
Shortly after Mr. Seward s return he was thrown from his car 
riage, and so severely injured as to be unable personally to dis 
charge all of the necessary duties of the Department of State at 
that interesting crisis. 

This accident to the Secretary of State hastened somewhat the 
President s return. I have reason to suppose, however, that in 
interviews with Generals Grant and Sherman he had enjoined 
upon them the concession of liberal terms to the rebels on the 
first indication of a disposition to yield and abandon the contest. 
To these merciful and considerate views of the President may be 

Lincoln and Johnson 185 

attributed the liberal tarns extended by the conquering generals 
to Lee and Johnston. Each of our generals was impressed with 
the humane, generous, and patriotic designs of the President, 
whose earnest, deepest wish was peace to the people, an early 
restoration of the national union, and the reestablishment of 
the States and people in all their original, reserved, and un 
doubted rights, on terms of equality and justice. 

On the 2d of April, while the President was still at the front, 
he telegraphed that a furious fight was going on, and on the 
3d we received intelligence of the fall of Richmond. The infor 
mation on that and the two succeeding dap was, however, 
meagre and stinted. Mr. Seward, who had been uneasy since his 
return, read to the Secretary of the Treasury and myself the 
draft of a proclamation he had prepared for the President to 
sign, closing the ports of the Southern States. This was a step 
which I had earnestly pressed at the beginning of the rebellion, 
as a domestic measure, and more legitimate than a blockade, 
which was international, and an admission that we were two 
nations. Within a few months, in fact, from the fall of Fort 
Fisher, Mr. Seward, who originally opposed this view, had been 
more favorably inclined, and the result was the proclamation he 
had prepared and now read to us. After some little discussion 
and approval, with an admission of the importance of an early 
promulgation of the document, Mr. Seward proposed that as 
it was uncertain when the President would return, he should go 
to Richmond and procure his signature to the paper. Within 
half an hour after we separated the horses attached to the 
carriage of the Secretary of State ran away with him, and he 
received injuries from which he did not recover for many weeks. 
When restored, great changes had taken place, affecting himself 
and the country. 

The President reached Washington on the evening of Sun 
day, the 9th of April. When I called on him the next morning 
he was in excellent spirits, the news of Lee s surrender, which 
however was not unanticipated, having been received. While I 
was with him he signed the proclamation for closing the ports, 
and expressed his gratification that Mr. Seward and myself con 
curred in the measure, alluding to our former differences. 

186 Civil War and Reconstruction 

The President at that time, and while I was with him at the 
White House, was informed that his fellow-citizens would that 
evening call to congratulate him on the fall of Richmond and 
surrender of Lee; but he requested their visit should be delayed 
that he might have time to put his thoughts on paper, for he 
desired that his utterances on such an occasion should be de 
liberate and not liable to misapprehension, misrepresentation, 
misinterpretation, or misconstruction. He, therefore, addressed 
the people on the following evening, Tuesday the llth, in a 
carefully-prepared speech, intended to promote harmony and 

In this remarkable speech, delivered three days before his 
assassination, he stated he had prepared a plan for the re- 
inauguration of the national authority and reconstruction in 
1863, which would be acceptable to the Executive Government, 
and that every member of the Cabinet fully approved the plan; 
but he was now censured for his agency setting up and seeking 
to sustain the State governments, though the Executive claimed 
no right to say when or whether members should be admitted 
to seats in Congress, That subject rested exclusively with the 
respective Houses, and not to any extent with the Executive. 
Neither he nor his successor seemed disposed at any time to 
trespass the legislative department of the Government; each de 
partment should limit its action within its prescribed constitu 
tional sphere. 

There was between the President and most of his Cabinet 
a cordial concurrence of opinion in regard to the importance of 
an early restoration of the Union, the reestablishment of the 
States in their rights, the exercise of clemency, the inculcation 
of harmony among the people, and a dismissal of all feelings of 
revenge or resentment toward the beaten rebels. The proclama 
tion or order of General Weitzel for convening or reassembling 
the Virginia rebel Legislature was discussed very fully, and it 
had also been commented upon at the Cabinet meeting on 
Tuesday. The subject had caused general surprise, and, on the 
part of some, dissatisfaction and irritation. Mr. Stanton and Mr. 
Speed were particularly disturbed by it, and I believe Mr. Denni- 
son also. Some, and perhaps all these gentlemen saw and remon- 

Lincoln and Johnson 187 

strated with the President, and individually made known their 
repugnance to the proceeding. Their decisive opposition, he 
admitted, was annoying him greatly, and he wished, in an 
interview with myself, that I would state frankly how the meas 
ure struck me. I did not hesitate to tell him I thought the 
movement questionable; that it did not strike me favorably; 
that in our desire to bring about an early peace, and to reestab 
lish the political relations which had been suspended for four 
years, we might make too much haste to accomplish our object 
satisfactorily. The method and way proposed might retard the 
measure, and lead the Virginia Legislature, when assembled, to 
profitless discussion and the adoption of inadmissible terms* He 
said his object and intentions were to effect a reconciliation as 
soon as possible, and he should not stickle about forms, provided 
he could attain the desired result; that he thought it best to meet 
the rebels as men, fellow-countrymen, who were reasonable and 
intelligent, and had rights which we were willing and disposed 
to respect. They had been in error, had appealed to arms, and 
after having fought well were beaten and humbled. I suggested 
that as we had never recognized any of their organizations as 
possessing validity during the war, it would be impolitic, to say 
the least, to now recognize them and their government as legal 
and possessed of authority to act. It was a concession which it 
appeared to me ought not to be made. Besides, when assembled, 
they might be contumacious and not counsel submission, but 
conspire to resist still further. There was, moreover, a feeble 
organization in Virginia, under Pierpont, which we had striven 
to vitalize and maintain; how could we, with justice to Pierpont 
and his supporters, recognize another opposing and antagonistic 
organization? He said he had no fears of any further attempts 
at resistance by the rebels; they had been too thoroughly whipped 
and weakened; but there might be something in the other sug 
gestion that we were giving sanction to the rebel organization. 
He did not himself, however, think much of it, The government 
under Pierpont, and no other, could be considered legal, but 
public sentiment or public prejudice must not be overlooked. 
He had, he said, no thought of treating the rebel Virginia 
representatives as a legal assemblage a real Legislature; but 

188 Civil War and Reconstruction 

the persons composing tliat body were leading men in their re 
spective counties, each of whom had a local influence, which he 
thought should be made available, in this critical rtransition 
state, in the interest of peace and the Union. He was surprised 
that his object and the movement had been so generally mis 
construed, and under the circumstances, perhaps, it was best the 
proceeding should be abandoned. State action in the interest of 
peace was, however, in itself disintegration and destruction to 
the Confederacy. He thought it should "be encouraged, and was, 
I pefceived, disappointed that his Meads opposed the measure, 
and that I, always recognized by him as a State rights Union man, 
had not favored it. The very fact of the rebel representatives 
coming together and dissolving their organization by their own 
act, after the troops were disbanded, would, in his belief, have 
a beneficial influence; but he could not, he said, go forward 
with everybody opposed to him. Civil government must, how 
ever, be established as soon as possible in those States when 
hostilities had ceased; there must be courts, and law, and order, 
or society would be broken up; the disbanded armies would 
turn into robber bands and guerilla parties. We had a responsible 
and he feared a difficult duty to prevent such a state of things. 

When I went to the Cabinet meeting on Friday, the 14th 
of April, General Grant, who had just arrived from Appomattox, 
was with the President, and one or two members were already 
there. Congratulations were interchanged, and earnest inquiry 
was made whether any information tad been received from 
General Sherman. The Secretary of War came late to the meet 
ing, and the telegraph office from, which we obtained earliest 
news was in the War Department. General Grant, who was in 
vited to remain, said he was expecting hourly to hear from 
Sherman, and had a good deal of anxiety on the subject. 

The President remarked that the news would come soon and 
come favorably, he had no doubt, for be had last night his usual 
dream which had preceded nearly every important event of the 
war. I inquired the particulars of this remarkable dream. He said 
it was in my department -it related to the water; that he seemed 
to be in a singular and indescribable vessel, but always the 
same, and that he was moving with, great rapidity toward a dark 

Lincoln and Johnson 189 

and indefinite shore; that he had had this singular dream pre 
ceding the firing on Sumter, the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, 
Gettysburg, Stone River, Vicksburg, Wilmington, etc. General 
Grant remarked with some emphasis and asperity that Stone 
River was no victory that a few such victories would have 
ruined the country, and he knew of no important results from 
it. The President said that perhaps he should not altogether 
agree with him but whatever might be the facts, his singular 
dream preceded that fight. Victory did not always follow Ms 
dream, but the event and results were important. He had no 
doubt that a battle had taken place or was about being fought, 
"and Johnston will be beaten, for I had this strange dream 
again last night. It must relate to Sherman; my thoughts are in 
that direction, and I know of no other very important event 
which is likely just now to occur." 

Great events did indeed follow. Within a few hours the 
good and gentle as well as truly great man who narrated his 
dream was assassinated, and the murder which closed forever his 
earthly career affected for years, and perhaps forever, the welfare 
of this country. 

The session of the Cabinet on that eventful day, the last of 
President Lincoln s life, was chiefly occupied on the subject of 
our relations with the rebelsthe communications, the trade, 
etc. The Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. McCulloch, who had but 
recently entered upon his duties, was embarrassed in regard to 
captured cotton, permits, and traffic. It was generally agreed 
that commercial intercourse with the rebel States should be 
speedily established. Mr. Stanton proposed that communication 
should be reopened by his issuing a military order, authorizing 
and limiting traffic; that the Secretary of the Treasury would 
give permits to all who wished to trade, and he (Stanton) would 
order the vessels to be received into any port. 

I suggested that instead of a military order from the Secretary 
of War, the President should issue an Executive order or 
proclamation for opening the ports to trade, and prescribe there 
in the duties of the several Departments. Mr. McCulloch ex 
pressed his willingness to be relieved from Treasury agents, and 
General Grant declared himself unequivocally opposed to them 

190 Civil War and Reconstruction 

and the whole Treasury system of trading within the rebel lines 
as demoralizing. 

In regard to opening the ports to trade, Mr. Stanton thought 
it should be attended with restrictions, and that traffic should 
not extend beyond the military lines. I proposed opening the 
whole coast to every one who wished to trade, was entitled to 
coast license, and should obtain a regular clearance. I wished 
the reestablishment of unrestricted commercial and social inter 
course with the Southern people with as little delay as possible, 
from a conviction that it would conduce to a more speedy 
establishment of friendly relations. General Grant concurred 
with me, and recommended that there should be no restrictions 
east of the Mississippi. The President referred the whole subject 
to the Secretaries of the Treasury, War, and Navy, and said he 
should be satisfied with any conclusions to which they might 
arrive, or on which they could agree. 

At the close of the session Mr. Stanton made some remarks 
on the general condition of affairs and the new phase and duties 
upon which we were about to enter. He alluded to the great 
solicitude which the President felt on this subject, his frequent 
recurrence to the necessity of establishing civil governments and 
preserving order in the rebel States. Like the rest of the Cabinet, 
doubtless, he had given this subject much consideration, and with 
a view of having something practical on which to base action, 
he had drawn up a rough plan or ordinance which he had 
handed to the President. 

The President said he proposed to bring forward that sub 
ject, although he had not had time as yet to give much attention 
to the details of the paper which the Secretary of War had 
given him only the day before; but that it was substantially, in 
its general scope, the plan which we had sometimes talked over 
in Cabinet meetings. We should probably make some modifica 
tions, prescribe further details; there were some suggestions which 
he should wish to make, and he desired all to bring their minds 
to the question, for no greater or more important one could 
come before us, or any future Cabinet. He thought it providential 
that this great rebellion was crushed just as Congress had ad 
journed, and there were none of the disturbing elements of that 

Lincoln and Johnson 11 

body to hinder and embarrass us. If we were wise and discreet^ 
we should reanimate the States and get their governments in 
successful operation, with order prevailing and the Union re 
established, before Congress came together in December. Tills 
he thought important. We could do better; accomplish more 
without than with them. There were men in Congress who, if 
their motives were good, were nevertheless impracticable, and 
who possessed feelings of hate and vindktiveness in which he did 
not sympathize and could not participate. He hoped there would 
be no persecution, no bloody work, after the war was over. None 
need expect he would take any part in hanging or killing those 
men, even the worst of them. Frighten them out of the country, 
open the gates, let down the bars, scare them off, said he, throw 
ing up his hands as if scaring sheep. Enough lives have been 
sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentments if we expect 
harmony and union. There was too much of a desire on the part 
of some of our very good friends to be masters, to interfere with 
and dictate to those States, to treat the people not as fellow- 
citizens; there was too little respect for their rights. He did not 
sympathize in these feelings, Louisiana, he said, had framed 
and presented one of the best constitutions that had ever been 
formed. He wished they had permitted negroes who had 
property, or could read, to vote; but this was a question which 
they must decide for themselves. Yet some, a very few of our 
friends, were not willing to let the people of the States determine 
these questions, but, in violation of first and fundamental prin 
ciples, would exercise arbitrary power over them. These humani 
tarians break down all State rights and constitutional rights. Had 
the Louisianians inserted the negro in their Constitution, and had 
that instrument been in all other respects the same, Mr. Sumner, 
he said, would never have excepted to that Constitution. The 
delegation would have been admitted, and the State all right. 
Each House of Congress, he said, had the undoubted right to 
receive or reject members; the Executive had no control in this 
matter. But Congress had nothing to do with the State govern 
ments, which the President could recognize, and under existing 
laws treat as other States, give them the same mail facilities, 
collect taxes, appoint judges, marshals, collectors, etc., subject 

192 Civil War and Reconstruction 

of course, to confirmation. There were men who objected to 
these views, but they were not here, and we must make haste 
to do our duty before they came here. 

Mr. Stanton read his project for reorganizing, reestablishing, 
or reconstructing governments. It was a military or executive 
order, and by it the War Department was designated to reorganize 
those States whose individuality it assumed was sacrificed. Divest 
ed of its military features, it was in form and outline essentially 
the same as the plan ultimately adopted. This document proposed 
establishing a military department to be composed of Virginia 
and North Carolina, with a military governor. After reading 
this paper, Mr. Stanton made some additional remarks in further 
ance of the views of the President and the importance of prompt 

A few moments elapsed, and no one else speaking, I expressed 
my concurrence in the necessity of immediate action, and my 
gratification that the Secretary of War had given the outlines 
of a plan embodying his views. I objected, however, to military 
supervision or control, and to the proposition of combining two 
States in the plan of a temporary government. My idea, more 
perhaps than that of any other of the Cabinet, was for a careful 
observance, not only of the distinctive rights, but of the indi 
viduality of the States. Besides, Virginia occupied a different 
position from that of any other of those States. There had been 
throughout the war a skeleton organization in that common 
wealth which we had recognized. We had said through the whole 
war that Virginia was a State in the Unionthat her relations 
with the Government were not suspended. We had acknowledged 
and claimed that Pierpont was the legitimate and rightful Gov 
ernor, that the organization was lawful and right under him; 
that the division of the State, which required the assent of the 
legal State government, had been effected, and was claimed to 
be constitutional and correct. Were we now to ignore our own 
actsto say the Pierpont Government was a farce that the act 
creating die State of West Virginia was a nullity? My position 
on that question was different from others, for though not un 
friendly to the new State, I had opposed the division of the 
State when it took place. The proposition to reestablish a State 

Lincoln and Johnson 195 

government In Virginia whore there was already a State govern 
ment with which we were acting; with Pierpant as governor* or 
to put it under military control, appeared to me a grave error. 
The President said my exceptions* some of them at least, were 
well taken. Some of them had occurred to him. It was in that 
view he had been willing that General Weitzel should call the 
leading rebels together, because they were not the legal Legis 
lature of Virginia, while the Pierpont Legislature was. Turning 
to Mr. Stanton, he asked what he would do with Pierpont and the 
Virginia Constitution? Stanton replied that he had no appre 
hension from Pierpont, but the paper which he had submitted 
was merely a rough sketch subject to any alteration, 

Governor Dennison thought that Pierpont would be no serious 
obstacle in the way, were that the only difficulty; but there were 
other objections, and he thought separate propositions for the 
government of the two States advisable. 

I suggested that the Federal Government could assist the loyal 
government of Virginia in asserting, extending, and maintain 
ing its authority over the whole State, but that we could not 
supersede or annul it. 

The President directed Mr. Stanton to take the document and 
have separate plans presented for the two States. They required 
different treatment. "We must not," said he, "stultify ourselves 
as regards Virginia, but we must help her." North Carolina was 
in a different condition. He requested the Secretary of War to 
have two copies of the two plans for the two States made and 
furnished each member of the Cabinet by the following Tuesday 
the next regular meeting. He impressed upon each and all the 
importance of deliberating upon and carefully considering the 
subject before us, remarking that this was the great question 
pending, and that we must now begin to act in the interest 
of peace. He again declared his thankfulness that Congress was 
not in session to embarrass us. 

The President was assassinated that evening, and I am not 
aware that he exchanged a word with any one after the Cabinet 
meeting of that day on the subject of a resumption of the 
national authority in the States where it had been suspended, 
or of reestablishing the Union. I was told by Speaker Colfax that, 

194 Civil War and Reconstruction 

in anticipation of a journey to the Pacific, he had come to 
Washington to learn the intentions of the President in regard 
to the meeting of Congress, whether he intended to convene that 
body in extra session; that he was assured by the President he 
did not contemplate such a step; that he informed Mr. Colfax 
he might proceed on his journey without hindrance, and part 
ing with him at the portico of the Executive mansion, as he was 
entering his carriage to go to the theatre, he gave him a message 
to the miners in Colorado. 

On Sunday the 16th of April, after the assassination of Presi 
dent Lincoln, there was a meeting of President Johnson and 
the Cabinet at ten in the morning at the rooms of the Secretary 
of the Treasury. The meeting was a protracted one. Mr. Stanton 
came late and brought with him a mass of papers. Many and 
important matters were adverted to, and among them the sub 
ject of reconstruction. The original draft, he said, had been 
divided, and the reestablishment of a State government as di 
rected by Mr. Lincoln was made applicable to North Carolina, 
while Virginia, with her loyal Governor and government, was 
to take necessary measures for an election of State officers by 
the people of the whole State. Mr. Stanton had not, however, 
copies for the members of the Cabinet at this meeting. 

I was invited to the War Department that evening, Sunday 
the 16th, on some matter of business, by Secretary Stanton, and 
after that was disposed of I sat by the fire conversing with him, 
when Senator Sunmer, Representatives Dawes and Gooch, and 
several other gentlemen in pretty rapid succession, entered the 
the room. Messrs. Colfax and Covode wire of the number. After a 
brief general conversation, the Secretary of War took from his 
desk the Cabinet papers in relation to the government of the 
rebel States, which, without introductory comment or remark, he 
proceeded to read. As these were Cabinet papers not yet matured, 
and had been scarcely discussed copies of which had not yet 
been furnished the members my surprise was great, and it be 
came a question in my own mind whether I was not an intruder. 
Yet I had been invited there by Mr. Stanton, ostensibly on busi 
ness. I could not doubt, however, that the other gentlemen came 


with an understanding of the object which had called 
together, but such was not my case. 

After reading the Virginia plan, for a division of the docu 
ment had been made, and before concluding that which related 
to North Carolina, Mr. Simmer interrupted the reading and re 
quested Mr. Stanton to stop until he could understand whether 
any provision was made for enfranchising the colored man. 
Unless, said he, the black man is given the right to vote, his 
freedom is mockery, 

Mr. Stanton said there were differences among our friends 
on that subject, and it would be unwise in his judgment to pros 
it in this stage of the proceedings. 

Mr. Sumner declared he would not proceed a step unless the 
black man had his rights. He considered the black man s right 
to vote the essence the great essential. He had letters in his 
pocket from some distinguished foreigners, whom he named, 
setting forth the subject dearly and emphatically. 

Mr. Stanton depreciated the agitation of the subject just at 
this time as unfortunate. 

I availed myself of the interruption caused by the discussion 
to bid the gentlemen good evening and withdraw. This evidence, 
on that Sunday evening, that Cabinet measures while yet in 
embryo and under discussion were subjected to outside criticism 
and consultation, confirmed an opinion I had long entertained 
that Cabinet measures were communicated to outside parties, 
and gave me pain and regret. 

Although the subject of the restoration of the States and the 
Union to their proper constitutional position and rights was a 
paramount question before the country, it was not alluded to 
at the regular Cabinet meeting on Tuesday the I8th, nor on 
any other occasion until after tie funeral of President Lincoln. 
This was perhaps excusable, although measures of less impor 
tance received attention. I endeavored to have the subject taken 
up at the meeting of the Cabinet on Friday the 21st, but the 
Secretary of War succeeded in getting it passed over then and for 
several successive meetings. It was not until Friday the 5th of 
May that it was brought forward. On that day President Johnson, 

196 Civil War and Reconstoiotion 

after a brief discussion, requested the Secretary of War to send 
copies of the plans to each member of the Cabinet for criticism 
and amendments, and he ordered a special Cabinet meeting on 
Monday the 8th of May for their consideration. I received from 
Mr, Stanton a printed copy of each of the proposed plans, that 
of Virginia on the 8th, that of North Carolina on the 9th; and 
still have in my possession the original printed copies of the 
"Executive order to reestablish the authority of the United 
States and execute the laws within the geographical * limits of 
Virginia and North Carolina, as submitted by him, with the al 
terations proposed by myself. Most of the emendations or correc 
tions were adopted, and with two exceptions were readily as 
sented to by Mr. Stanton. I preferred a proclamation to an 
Executive order, as more in character for the Chief Magistrate, 
more respectful, and less martial. 

The first paragraph of Mr. Stanton s draft, which was intro 
ductory, was by common consent omitted. 

The sixth section, or order, as originally proposed by Mr, 
Stanton, was the longest and fullest. It gave into the hands of the 
Secretary of War the whole machinery for organizing civil gov 
ernment for the States, through provost marshals to be by him 

To this delegation of Executive duties and authority to the 
Secretary of War decisive objection was taken. The subject of 
reorganizing the State governments and reestablishing Federal 
authority in the insurrectionary region, was a matter of the 
highest responsibility and gravest importance, and could not 
with propriety be turned over to any one department, but should 
be reserved for general Administration and Executive action. 
On this point there was such general concurrence of opinion by 
all others, that Mr. Stanton, though disappointed, was not per 
sistent in its defence. 

The eighth section as proposed by Mr. Stanton read as 

Eighth. That to carry into effect the guarantee by the 
Federal Constitution of a republican form of State govern 
ment, and afford to them the advantage and security of 
domestic laws, as well as to complete the reestablishment of 

Lincoln and Johnson 197 

the authority and laws of the United States* and the full 
and complete restoration of peace within the limits afore- 
said* Francis H. Pierpont, Governor of the State of Virginia, 
be requested to take measures for the recstablishment of 

the State government, and for the election of State officers, 
with the assurance that the aid of the United States, so far 
as may be necessary, will be exerted to that end. 

I proposed to amend and so modify the section as to assure 
the existing State authorities of Federal aid in maintaining and 
extending the admlnistraton of the State government throughout 
the geographical limits of the State, but without ordering a new 
election or Interfering with the State government. 

As changed and corrected by me, the section was as follows: 

Eighth. That to carry Into effect the guarantee by the 
Federal Constitution of a republican form of State govern 
ment, and afford the advantage and security of domestic 
laws, as well as to complete the reestablishment of the au 
thority and laws of the United States, and the full and com 
plete restoration of peace within the limits aforesaid, Francis 
H. Pierpont, Governor of the State of Virginia, will be 
aided by the power of the Federal Government so far as 
may be necessary, in the lawful measures which he may take 
for the extension and administration of the State govern 
ment throughout the geographical limits of said State. 

The first rough draft presented to the Cabinet on the 14th 
of April embodied, as has been stated, a plan for the government 
of both Virginia and North Carolina under a military governor, 
and was doubtless the germ of the military reconstruction laws 
enacted two years later in 1867, which placed the Southern States 
under military rule. North Carolina and South Carolina formed 
under those laws the second military district, instead of Virginia 
and North Carolina, as proposed by Mr. Stanton s first draft. 
In the differences growing out of the construction of this eighth 
section may be seen the early dawn, the incipient movement, 
which was subsequently more fully developed in the controversy 
between the Executive and Congress in regard to Federal and 
State rights, the exercise of unlimited central power on the one 

198 Civil War and ReconstmctlMi 

hand, and restriction to constitutional limitation and freedom 
of the people and States on the other. The original eighth section 
had in view the first step toward the subordination of the States 
exercising over them arbitrary and absolute control, treating 
them as provinces, dependent territories, subjugated, and without 
any of their original inherent and reserved rights as distinct 
and independent members of the Union. The design was to 
establish a new State government in Virginia by Federal mandate, 
when a State government was already there established and 
in force, ordering a new election of State officers, although the 
term of the incumbents with whom for years we had been 
acting had not expired. President Johnson and most of the 
Cabinet took the ground of non-interference, non-dictation by 
the Federal Government to a State which was organized, the 
government of which was republican and had been so treated 
by us; but as the Federal and State authority had been excluded 
from a large portion of the State by the insurrection, it was 
necessary to resume national authority, to reassert the Federal 
jurisdiction, and to give aid to the State authorities so far as 
aid might be necessary to enforce State jurisdiction in those 
localities. Mr. Stanton had, however, after the suggestions on 
the 14th of April, and under the instructions given him by 
President Lincoln, so far modified his original plan as to give 
a qualified recognition to Virgnia as a State; but yet by inference 
she was without a republican form of government, and in such 
a condition of territorial pupilage as to be considered a mere 
corporation, subject to the mandatory orders of the Federal 
Government. The Governor was requested, or in plain language 
required, ordered, to "take measures for the establishment of 
the State government and the election of State officers," etc 
The subject was not divested of embarrassment, for the govern 
ment of Pierpont was frail, and those administering it, though 
loyal, were not the legitimate offspring or choice of a majority 
of the whole people; but most of the Cabinet approved of the 
amendment and the President adopted it with a slight verbal 
alteration. Mr. Stanton assented with unexpected willingness to 
most of the minor amendments or alterations which I proposed, 
but yielded on the sixth and eighth sections with some reluctance. 

Lincoln mnd Johnson 199 

At the of the discussion he requested that the copies which 
he had furnished to each member of the Cabinet be re 

turned to him; and most, perhaps all except myself, compiled 
with his request. As I had proposed the principal if not all the 
amendments, I desired to retain my copy with the Interlineations. 
Mr. Stanton after a little hesitation acquiesced* but Insisted 
on destroying that part of the sixth section which placed the 
machinery for reorganizing and reestablishing the governments 
of the Southern States in the hands of the Secretary of War, 
This part of his scheme having been rejected, he claimed It 
formed no longer any portion of the plan, and with his scissors 
he cut out the whole section except the first two lines. This copy, 
thus mutilated, with the amendments interlined, is In my posses 
sion, as Is also Ms plan for a temporary government of North 
Carolina submitted and discussed on the 9th of May. This state 
ment differs In some respects from the testimony of Mr. Stanton, 
and also that of General Grant, before the Impeachment Com 
mittee, when the proceedings of the Cabinet on these points 
were disclosed. Their statements wore from memory, MINE is 
FROM RECORD. Not only the original plans are now before me, 
but memoranda of the occurrences which took place, and are 
the basis of what Is related in this paper. 

The draft for a provisional or temporary government of North 
Carolina was considered on Tuesday, the 9th of May. As this 
was to be the plan or form for the temporary government of 
the other States which had been in rebellion, preparatory to 
and In aid of their full and complete restoration, the subject 
was canvassed with much deliberation. The details prescribed in 
the Virginia plan, so far as they could be made applicable to 
North Carolina, were to be followed, and the Secretary of War 
was directed to furnish copies to each member of the Cabinet 
embodying the general ideas advanced and approved In the 
discussions on the 5th and 8th. This plan, as arranged by Mr. 
Stanton and submitted, was not however in form and manner 
conformable in all respects to the President s Ideas and wishes. 
The most important point that which related to the qualified 
voters, or who should be permitted to take part in the elec 
tionswas involved in some obscurity. 

2Q Civil War and Reconstruction 

Mr. Stanton, in Ms evidence before the Impeachment Com- 
mittee, says: 

There was one point which I had left open; that was 
as to who should constitute the electors in the respective 
States. That I supposed to be the only important point 
upon which a difference of opinion could arise whether 
the blacks should have suffrage in the States, or whether 
it should be confined, for the purposes of reorganization, 
to those who had exercised it under the former State laws. 
I left a blank upon that subject to be considered. 

Mr, Stanton committed a mistake when he made this state 
ment. No blank in regard to electors or suffrage was left in his 
draft for the reestablishment of State governments for the South. 

His plan of government for North Carolina submitted on the 
9th of May expressly ordered: "That the loyal citizens of the 
United States, residing within the State of North Carolina on 
the second Tuesday of July next, may on that day, in the sev 
eral precincts and customary places of holding elections, and 
between the usual hours, elect members of a State Convention 
to adopt a State constitution and republican form of State gov 
ernment in said State/ I claimed that this was equivocal, that 
it would lead to controversy, and asked what was meant by 
"loyal citizens." He admitted the intention was to include negroes 
as well as white men. To this, serious objection was made by 
another member, which led to an expression of opinion by each 
one of the Cabinet present. Mr. Stanton himself objected to any 
preliminary discussion. There was a kindly feeling on every hand 
toward the colored race, whose freedom and social condition 
had been involved in, and in many respects improved by, the 
results of the War; but a large portion of the people, even in 
the States loyal to the Constitution, were not prepared to en 
franchise or admit negroes to the privilege of being voters. This 
question as presented in Mr. Stanton s plan being equivocal, or 
left vague and uncertain, was objected to, as it would lead to 
controversy and collision. The President wished there might be 
no room for dispute or equivocation. Mr. Stanton said there 
were differences on that subject which could not be easily rec- 

Lincoln and Johnson 201 

onciled; perhaps It would be well therefore to meet it and set 
tle it here. He suggested, however, that there should be no 
cussion, but that each member should ay f briefly, whether the 
negro should be authorized to Yote in North Carolina. There 
is no secrecy in regard to the opinion of the individual mem 
bers of the Cabinet as declared on that occasion, The result of 
the meeting and the position of each member were immediately 
known outside the Administration. Indeed, most of the Cabinet 
proceedings on that subject and some others of importance were 
divulged at that period. The Secretary of State was not present, 
nor am I aware that he was consulted. The Secretary of War, 
the Postmaster-General, and the Attorney-General declared them 
selves in favor of giving the negro the privilege of voting by 
Federal authority in this Executive order. The Secretaries of 
the Treasury, Navy, and Interior denied that the Federal Gov 
ernment had any authority in the premises, or power to confer 
this privilege. 

But few words were interchanged in regard to public sen 
timent, etc. I remarked, after each had expressed his opinion, 
that the subject had been well considered and passed upon by 
President Lincoln and the Cabinet before issuing the proclama 
tion of December 8, 1863. At that time it was concluded unan 
imously I had supposed, Mr. Stanton being one of our number 
that the question of suffrage belonged to the States; that the 
qualification in different States was not uniform; that the Fed 
eral Government could not rightfully interfere to make it so; 
but that all entitled to and accepting of amnesty, who possessed 
the qualifications prescribed in the constitutions of their re 
spective States prior to the passage of the secession ordinances, 
could legally vote, and none others. The rule then adopted I 
thought a correct one, and should be adhered to. Discussion, 
however, was declined, and the President took the papers with 
out himself expressing at that time an opinion. 

It was also stated by Mr. Stanton in his testimony before 
the Impeachment Committee, that 

Subsequently, at an early day, the subject (suffrage) came 
under consideration, after the surrender of Johnston s army, 
in the Cabinet of Mr. Johnson. The projet I had prepared 

202 Civil War and Reconstruction 

was printed, and a copy In the hands of each member of 
the Cabinet, and the President. It was somewhat altered in 
some particulars, and came under discussion in the Cabinet, 
the principal point of discussion being as to who should 
exercise the elective franchise. I think there was a dif 
ference of opinion in the Cabinet upon the subject. The 
President expressed his views very dearly and distinctly. 
I expressed my views, and other members of the Cabinet 
expressed their views. The objection of the Persident to 
throwing the franchise open to the colored people ap 
peared to be fixed, and I think every member of the Cabinet 
assented to the arrangement as it was specified in the procla 
mation relative to North Carolina. 

There was an impression almost an accusationthat Presi 
dent Johnson, by an arbitrary dictum, disposed of this question 
without deliberation; that he had predetermined it before the 
subject was taken up in Cabinet meeting. So far is this from the 
truth, that he forbore to express an opinion, gave the question 
much careful thought and consideration, and reserved his decision 
for some days. 

General Grant was present, by invitation of President Lincoln, 
at the Cabinet meeting on the 14th of April, when the first 
rough draft for reconstruction was read, as stated in his evidence, 
but not at any other Cabinet meeting when this subject was 
considered. That draft of the 14th of April was an "Executive 
order" for the government of Virginia and North Carolina, and 
a different document from the "North Carolina proclamation" 
of President Johnson of the 29th of May, although General Grant 
appears to think it the same. In the draft or plan which General 
Grant heard read on the 14th of April, no allusion was made 
to the subject of franchise, for Secretary Stanton was aware that 
Mr. Lincoln, who was then present, had settled and fixed opin 
ions on that subject, which he had clearly stated in his proclama 
tion of December, 1863. The question of franchise was, how 
ever, the prominent topic in the North Carolina proclamation. 
The draft of the 14th of April also contained a proposition for 
a military government to reorganize the Southern States, under 
the direction of the Secretary of War, which is not the fact in 

Lincoln Johnsmi 

the plan finally adopted by President Johnson. The first was 
an Executive order, the last was a Proclamation. General Grant 
was present when the "Executive order * was read in Cabinet 
council, but never when the North Carolina Proclamation was 
under consideration. He confounded the two documents, which 
were in some respects quite dissimilar, though both had in view 
the reorganization and recstablishment of civil government in 
the rebel States. 

There was a slight diversity in respect to the title which 
should be given the officer who, undo: the direction of the 
President, should initiate proceedings to reestablish civil govern 
ment, and have charge of affairs in North Carolina until her 
Constitution was modified and the State in full accord with the 
General Government The subject had been previously adverted 
to. A military man could, it was said, be assigned to the duty, 
and have a command given him to enforce his orders and make 
himself respected, and who would be paid from the army ap 
propriation. The precedent which had been set in Tennessee, 
when Mr. Johnson, the President, had been made a brigadier- 
general and military governor, was cited. But, on the other hand, 
it was urged that the war being over, it was desirable to do away 
with military rule so far as it could be safely dispensed with; 
that the office and duties were essentially civil, and that it would 
be desirable, and conducive to harmony, if the person selected 
should be a citizen of the State not connected with the army, 
but familiar with the laws and institutons of the people he was 
to govern, and whose broken relations were to be reestablished. 
The title of Provisional Governor or Commissioner, was there 
fore preferred, and that of Provisional Governor, proposed, I 
think, by Governor Denison, was adopted. 

The people had for four years submitted to the exercise of 
extraordinary, almost unlimited military power, and on the 
cessation of hostilities good and wise men not connected with 
the army were anxious to relieve the country of military rule. 
This was the prevailing feeling of the Administration, and many 
of the army officers concurred in that feeling. The title of Pro 
visional Governor for the person to be employed to adjust those 
affairs was, therefore, generally approved. On the question of 

204 Civil War and Recoostrncftioii 

Negro suffrage, however, there were Irreconcilable differences in 
the Republican party, which had then already disclosed them 
selves in the Senate on the Louisiana question and other measures, 
and these differences were increasing in Congress and through 
out the country. Many who felt indifferent on the subject so 
far as the negro was concerned, denied nevertheless the power 
of the Federal Government to give the black race the privilege 
or right to vote or to prevent them from voting; claimed that 
it violated the foundation principles on which our governmental 
superstructure was built; that the subject belonged to the States 
exclusively. But there was a fanaticism with others, who in 
their zeal appeared to consider the cause of liberty and free 
government involved in the enfranchisement of the blacks, and 
were ready in pursuit of this one idea to sacrifice constitutional 
limitations and safeguards, and constitutional government, to 
secure to that race the privilege of suffrage. Instead of a privilege 
conferred and regulated by law and constitutional rules, the 
Radicals, as they began to call themselves, insisted that suffrage 
was and is an inherent and inalienable right. The condition of 
the country, just recovering from a civil war which had its origin 
in the aggressive demands of slavery, and claims in its behalf 
not warranted by the Constitution, conduced to the growth of 
public sentiment in the opposite extreme, scarcely less reprehensi 
ble, in favor of the blacks and against their rebel masters. While 
the fanatics I do not apply the word offensively were earnest 
and sincere, there was another class of shrewd and managing 
partisans who allied themselves to the movement, but were 
governed by less honest motives and had less honest convictions. 
The people, North and South, were weary of war and wished 
for peace; but there were extreme men in each section who had 
an object in perpetuating differences. This question of negro 
suffrage, together with proscription of the Southern whites, soon 
became a party test, and with it came in the old distinctions in 
regard to State rights and central power. 


Lincoln and Johnson 


The break between President Johnson and Congress on 
the question of reconstruction overshadowed Ms entire 
administration. Welles here continues his account of the 
origins of the President s policy and seeks to put all 
the blame for the breach upon the radicals. The Secre 
tary s account of their efforts to induce the President 
to call Congress into special session as late as July, 
1865, is especially interesting. 


1 HE MEASURE of reconstruction involved principles which, 
from the origin of the Government, have divided public sen 
timent and led to the organization of opposing parties. The 
question presented was whether the people of the States which 
had been in rebellion had sufficient intelligence and virtue to 
resume their rights and exercise the duties and authority of 
local self-government, or whether they should by central power be 
denied these privileges and rights, and subjected to military 
domination. Distrust of popular government had always existed 
to a considerable extent, and those who were of that faith were 
unwilling, now that the power was in their hands, to permit the 
people of North Carolina and other Southern States to frame 
their own governments, make their own organic laws, and govern 
themselves. Neither President Lincoln nor President Johnson 

The Galaxy, XIII (May, 1872). 


206 Civil War and Recoiastraction 

had any such distrust, nor would they consent to exercise arbi 
trary power on the rights of the States or our established federal 
system of State equality. The subject had been considered with 
out prejudice or party bias, long before the rebellion was sup 
pressed. The plan of reconstruction which President Lincoln 
initiated is clearly set forth in the annual message of December 
8, 1863, and the accompanying Proclamation of that date. In 
those documents the people of the States in insurrection are 
invited to resume their lawful position in the Union, and are 
assured that when they the people of any Statemay do so, and 
"shall reestablish a State government which shall be republican," 
such shall be recognized as the true government of the State, and 
the State shall receive thereunder the benefits of the constitu 
tional provision which declares that, "the United States shall 
guarantee to every State in this Union, a republican form of 
government, and shall protect each of them." This policy, which 
is constitutional, and was announced by President Lincoln with 
the approval of his cabinet in 1863, received the sanction of the 
tountry, and was adopted and carried forward by President 
Johnson in 1865. The Secretary of War manifested a desire to 
continue military ascendency after the overthrow of the Con 
federacy. In consultation with his confidants in Congress he 
proposed by an executive order to abandon the principles laid 
down by Mr. Lincoln in regard to suffrage, and without warrant 
from the Constitution, and in derogation of the rights of the 
States, to authorize the negroes to vote in the elections. 

President Johnson modified essentially Mr. Stanton s draft 
for the temporary government of North Carolina, put the docu 
ment in the form of a Proclamation instead of an Executive 
order, and made it more distinctly a civil than military paper. 
In that respect it was a great improvement on the original and 
on the Virginia draft. He did not issue the proclamation ap 
pointing the Provisional Governor and establishing a temporary 
government in North Carolina until the 29th of May. The dis 
puted question of suffrage he carefully weighed and investigated, 
reviewed the whole subject, and while, like Mr. Lincoln, he felt 
as a man kindly disposed toward the colored race, and would have 
been gratified even to give them qualified suffrage if were they 

Lincoln Johnson 207 

of capacity, lite President Lincoln lie came to the 
conclusion that the subject belonged exclusively to the States 
and the people of the States respectively, and that the Federal 
Government had no legal power or legitimate control over it. 
The rebels by their own acts had individually forfeited their 
rights as citizens, and might each be excluded from participating 
in the Government unless pardon or amnesty was granted. 
Amnesty might be qualified and conditional. It was admitted to- 
be in the power of the Executive, by a limited pardon, to oc 
clude from suffrage certain criminal whites, but neither the 
President nor the Federal Government had authority to admit 
to suffrage any blacks. By excluding those who had been in 
rebellion he had the power, if disposed to exercise it, to gratify 
to that extent the intolerant feeling which sought to proscribe 
the Southern whites; but while he might so far restrict suffrage, 
and thereby had measurable control, he yet had no authority 
to establish new qualifications for voting, or to confer on minors, 
or females, or blacks, the privilege of electors, in opposition to 
the fundamental laws of the States respectively. By withholding 
a full pardon he might exdude traitors from voting, but he was 
invested with no authority to confer suffrage on any person or 
dass, in derogation or violation of the local fundamental law 
of any State. Nor had the President nor the whole Federal 
Government any authority, constitutional or equitable, to break 
down sovereign communities, or deprive the loyal, law-abiding, 
patriotic citizens of those States of their reserved civil, municipal, 
and political rights. And, as punishment should not precede but 
follow conviction, rebels themselves were entitled to a fair and 
impartial trial before being condemned, outlawed, and punished 
for crime. His investigations and reflections led him, in his North 
Carolina proclamation, to adopt the principle, and almost the 
very words, of President Lincoln in 1863. He said: 

In any election that may be hereafter held for choosing 
delegates to any State Convention, as aforesaid, no person 
shall be qualified as an elector, or shall be eligible as a mem 
ber of such convention, unless he shall have previously 
taken the oath of amnesty as set forth in the President s 
proclamation of May 29, A.D. 1865, and is a voter qualified 

208 Civil War and Reconstnidtimi 

as prescribed by the laws and Constitution of the State of 
North Carolina in force immediately before the 20th day 
of May, 1861, the date of the so-called ordinance of seces 
sion; and the said Convention when convened, or the Legis 
lature that may be thereafter assembled, will prescribe the 
qualifications of electors and the eligibility of persons to hold 
office under the Constitution and laws of the State, a power 
the people of the several States composing the Federal 
Union have rightfully exercised from the origin of the 
Government to the present time. 

The words of President Lincoln in his proclamation of the 
8th of December, 1863, proposing the reestablishment of legal 
governments in the rebel States, are, "being a qualified voter 
by the election laws of the State existing immediately before the 
so-called act of secession"; and in the same proclamation he 
suggests that "the Constitution and the general code of laws as 
before the rebellion he maintained, subject only to the modifica 
tions made necessary by the conditions hereinbefore stated." 
These conditions related to confiscation, emancipation, and other 
acts originating in and growing out of the rebellion. 

The rule and principles set forth had been carefully and 
elaborately examined and discussed by the members composing 
the Executive Administration in 1863, and upon their unanimous 
approval had been adopted and proclaimed by President Lincoln. 
Three of the members of President Lincoln s Administration in 
1863 were in the Cabinet of President Johnson in May, 1865, 
two of whom are understood to have advised an adherence to 
the rule laid down in 1863. President Johnson agreed with them 
as to the correctness and legality of the principle, and made it his 
rule of action in reestablishing loyal governments. There was 
therefore no change of policy in 1865, on the part of the 
Administration, from the policy of 1863 in that regard. The 
views of President Lincoln and President Johnson were identi 
cal; yet an organized opposition was immediately commenced 
against President Johnson for the honest and conscientious 
discharge of his constitutional duty, which pursued him with 
vindictive and unrelenting ferocity during his whole Administra 
tion, and malignantly and without cause or justification at- 

Lincoln $nd Johnson 

tempted Ms impeachment. Other pretexts, and 

were assigned, but the real and true cause of and 

persecution was the fearless and unswerving fidelity of the 
President to the Constitution, his refusal to proscribe the 
white people In the rebel States and the States themselves by 
ex post facto laws, his opposition to central Congressional usurpa 
tion, and his maintenance of the rights of the States and of 
the Executive Department of the Government against legislative 
aggjression. Of the manner in which he met his assailants, and 
the wisdom of all that was said and done on either side during 
that extraordinary conflict which was carried on by a fragment 
of Congress that arrogated to itself authority to exclude States 
and people from their constitutional right of representation, 
against an Executive striving under infinite embarrassments to 
preserve State, Federal, and Popular rights, to restore peace and 
promote national union it is unnecessary to speak at this time, 
further than to say that his motives were as pure as the principles 
which governed both him and Abraham Lincoln were constitu 
tional and correct 

In this matter of extending suffrage to the colored race and 
of proscription of the whites, the President and most of his 
Cabinet were opposed to any and all oppressive measures, and 
to any general subversion of the laws, usages, institutions, tradi 
tions, and customs of the States respectively, excepting so far 
as to rid them of slavery, the radical error which had caused our 
national trouble and led to the arbitrament of arms. That had 
been by common consent on both sides in issue, and was de 
termined by the war. Emancipation was in issue; negro suffrage 
was not. That was an afterthought a new contest, introduced 
after hostilities had ceased, and terms had been granted and ac 
cepted. The doctrine, recognized throughout the civilized world, 
that all laws not inconsistent with those of the conquerors re 
main in force till changed to the conquered, the centralists would 
not concede to the Southern States, composed of people who 
were their countrymen, living under the some Constitution, and, 
like themselves, amenable to existing Federal laws. They were 
sheltered by no treaty, and were denied the legal rights guaranteed 
by the Constitution to all citizens. Had the war been carried on 

210 Civil War and Reconstruction 

with a foreign power, there would have been peace when hos 
tilities ceased and the conquered party had submitted and ac 
cepted terms; but such was not the case in this instance. The 
defeated States were protected by no treaty, and the conquerors 
refused to recognize or be governed by existing laws towards 
the conquered. American citizens who resided at the South dur 
ing the rebellion were not allowed the rights conceded to aliens 
if they continued to reside in that section. Leading minds in 
Congress and the country exerted their influence to prevent har 
mony and reconciliation. Hatred and revenge were cherished 
and inculcated towards all indiscriminately who lived in the 
rebel States, whether they had been actors or not, willing or 
involuntary, Union men or otherwise. While the Radicals did 
not propose to hang or imprison all, or perhaps any considerable 
portion, of the Southern people, all who continued to reside 
within the limits of any of the rebel States were to be unrepre 
sented, to be classed as rebels, and robbed of their rights. Their 
fidelity to the Union during the war, and their surrender and 
submission, were not sufficient; the white people, loyal and dis 
loyal, who continued to reside South, were denied rights reserv 
ed and secured to them by the fundamental law rights inherent 
in the people of each State as distinct communities, and which 
were never ceded away, granted to or conferred upon the Fed 
eral Government, or in any manner parted with. All were sub 
jected to arbitrary military rule, no further restrained under the 
laws which Congress proceeded to enact than the military com 
mander placed over them might, in his own voluntary pleas 
ure, tolerate and permit. It was a war against States as much 
as against persons, for not one of the thousands who fled into 
the Northern States was disfranchished or molested. There seem 
ed an unreasoning fanaticism on the subject of the rights and 
privileges of the colored race with some, who in their zeal per 
suaded themselves that the cause of liberty was with the negro, 
not with the white man, Negro suffrage and negro supremacy 
over the whole South became with these men the one great ab 
sorbing idea. Others less sincere than the fanatics, but who had 
party, personal, and merecenary ends in view, and central prin 
ciples to promote, allied themselves with the fanatics against 

Lincoln and Johnson 211 

the President, in the confident expectation that, by the aid of 
negro votes, the party of centralists would secure and Baaintain 
ascendancy in the General Government. This party, which sooa 
assumed the name of Radical, scouted at all legal restraints 
upon their schemes against the States and against white men* 
and did not hesitate to disregard and break down all constitu 
tional barriers which were in their way, although but few had 
the frankness of their chief leader, Thaddeus Stevens, to de 
clare they were independent of and outside the Constitution. 

Senator Sumner called on me on the 10th of May, the day 
after the Cabinet had taken action declining to interfere with 
suffrage. No direct mention of that action was made, but the 
question in its general aspect was discussed, and I was satisfied 
he had been informed of the opinions given. He was very ear 
nest and sincere in urging the absolute necessity of permitting 
or not denying to the colored race the franchise. Voting, he 
claimed, was indispensable to freedom; without it the blacks 
had gained nothing servitude, slavery in another form would 
be imposed upon them by the privileged or master race. Their 
admission to civil rights, the establishment of the marriage re 
lation, the unity of the family which could no longer be for 
cibly separated by any master against their willpoints which 
I mentioned as secured to them by the war he treated as of little 
consequence without suffrage. In the course of the conversation 
he said that Chief Justice Chase had left on a visit to the rebel 
States for the purpose of promoting the cause of negro suffrage, 
and that President Johnson was aware of his object and favored it. 

As the President had forborne to express his opinion on the 
9th, when he took the papers and dismissed the Cabinet council, 
not unlikely there was at the time an impression, perhaps an 
expectation with some, that he would favor negro suffrage. He 
would not, I was confident and so stated, have opposed it, had 
any State adopted or proposed to adopt it On the contrary, he 
was kindly disposed, and I think personally favorable to quali 
fied negro suffrage, when there were evidences of capacity suf 
ficient on the part of the colored man to discharge the duty 
intelligently. But that the Federal Government had any power 
or authority to dictate or control the States on this subject, was 

212 Civil War and Recoostractiwi 

an idea he never entertained. He was too faithful to the Con 
stitution, too strict a constructionism too firm an advocate of 
State rights, had too profound a regard for our system of State 
and Federal governments based on popular rights, to interfere 
with the States in this matter. 

Mr. Sumner did not controvert, but rather assented to my 
exposition of what I believed were President Johnson s views, 
but he put in a remark indicating that the popular voice and 
popular rights included the negro race. This, I claimed, would 
be a new dispensation from the central Government, which had 
no authority to give or order it. Although no direct mention 
was made of the opinions expressed in the Cabinet, I was im 
pressed with the belief that Senator Sumner had been advised 
in regard to what had taken place, and that his statements of the 
expedition of the Chief Justice, its object, and that the President 
approved of it, were intended, as well as his own remarks, to have 
an influence on that subject. 

In a conversation with Senator Sumner the following Decem 
ber, referring to the secret meeting which took place at the War 
Department on the Sunday evening succeeding the assassination 
of President Lincoln, he said that he and Colfax interpolated a 
paragraph on the subject of suffrage into the Executive Order 
that Mr. Stanton had prepared, which Stanton accepted. This 
paragraph, which has been already quoted in a preceding paper, 
was, he said, satisfactory to him and those who agreed with him, 
but that Seward, McCulloch, and myself had upset the arrange 
ment and were responsible for all the consequences. This para 
graph, which Messrs. Sumner and Colfax interpolated on the 
16th of April, was not in the first rough draft submitted to the 
Lincoln Cabinet on the 14th of April, the only occasion when 
General Grant was present while the subject of a provisional 
or military government for North Carolina was under considera 
tion. He was never present with President Johnson s Cabinet 
when the subject was considered. Mr. Stanton was mistaken when 
he represented that he left a blank on the subject of suffrage in 
his North Carolina draft. I have that draft as he presented it, 
and there is no such blank. I have quoted the paragraph re- 

Lincoln and Johnson 218 

speetmg loyal citizens and elections which Messrs, Sunnier 
Colfax prepared, and which was submitted for approval. 

General Grant was in error in supposing he was present when 
the North Carolina Proclamation was read in Cabinet, He was 
not present on that occasion, but was in attendance when the 
first Executive Order was submitted. 

It is also worthy of observation that Messrs. Simmer and 
Colfax and others took no exception to the plan or policy of 
reconstruction instituted by President Lincoln and adopted by 
President Johnson; but they, with Mr. Stanton, undertook to 
assist the President, and shape and perfect the Executive Older 
to meet their peculiar views. When, however, President Johnson 
declined, as President Lincoln had declined, to intermeddle with 
the subject of suffrage, he was accused of "high crimes and 
misdemeanors" for the steps which he had taken to reconstruct 
the States and resume the national authority. 

On the 24th of May I saw for the first time the proclamation 
for establishing government in North Carolina, with the pro 
gramme as revised by the President and finally published on 
the 29th. It was in some essentials different from Mr. Stanton s 
draft, and was a more finished and complete document in every 
respect than when it passed into the President s hands. The 
promulgation in the form of a Proclamation was preferable to 
that of an Executive or military order, which had been proposed 
in the first draft, and was in fact applied to Virginia. 

Almost immediately after the proclamation for amnesty, which 
was issued on the 29th of May, simultaneously with the procla 
mation for establishing a provisional government in North 
Carolina, preliminary to the complete restoration of the State 
to the Union, opposition to these measures began to be developed. 
The people North and South, with great unanimity, acquiesced 
in and approved these steps of the Executive and the policy thus 
indicated, but discontent began to be manifested, angry ex 
pressions were uttered, and combinations entered into by a 
class of active and leading party men of extreme views, who 
were not willing that the desolation of war should be so soon 

214 Civil War and Reconstruction 

forgotten and its spirit allayed. The same men had denounced 
the mild and lenient policy of President Lincoln and opposed 
his reelection. 

Foremost among them as a master spirit and avengernot 
a restorer and moving with subtle skill and effect, was Henry 
Winter Davis of Maryland. Although of abilities superior in 
many respects to any man in Congress for the work in hand, and 
possessed of a keen, suggestive, and intriguing mind, with variable 
and salient powers, which could devise schemes and excite his 
associates to their execution, he failed to win and hold the con 
fidence of the people. But few even of his most intimate friends, 
while listening to his eloquent suggestions, gave him implicit 
trust. Conspicuously and energetically beyond any other man, 
he came forward at this period as the leader and oracle of the 
Radical party, the champion of negro suffrage and of the 
equality of the races the opponent of State rights, and the 
open advocate of the omnipotent imperialism of Congress and 
the central Government. He had not been a favorite of Mr. 
Lincoln and most of his Cabinet, and he knew full well they did 
not desire his return to Congress. Aware of these facts, and that 
a considerable portion of the Republicans of Baltimore as well 
as all the Democrats of his district were opposed to him, he feared 
to stand as a candidate for reelection, and had reluctantly de 
clined and retired from the contest the preceding fall. But his 
ambition, his extreme radicalism, and his hostility to the mild 
and benignant policy of Mr. Lincoln and his Administration, had 
not abated. The death of the President wrought no change of 
feeling in Davis, for the same Cabinet remained, the same 
clemency was being exercised, and the same policy was pursued 
as under Mr. Lincoln, with even a more studied observance of 
the rights of the States. He was therefore among the very first to 
manifest opposition to President Johnson and his policy, aggra 
vated in his mind because it was a continuation of the policy 
of Mr. Lincoln. 

Before the close of the month of June, Senator Wade and 
Thaddeus Stevens, acting in concert with Davis, and who, like 
him, had been opposed to the renomination arid election of 
Mr. Lincoln, repaired to Washington. Wade was much under 

Lincoln and Johnson * 215 

the Influence of the Baltimore Radical, whose genius he admired, 
and between whom and himself there was coincidence of opinion 
on most of the political questions of the period. Although acting 
in concert, the mental structure of the two men was widely dif 
ferent. Wade, rugged and less cultivated than Davis, had vastly 
greater influence, for his rough and honest sincerity* thought 
sometimes astray, begat confidence and respect* while proposi 
tions originating in the scheming and intriguing mind of Davis 
generally required indorsement. In allying himself to the Ohio 
Senator Davis exhibited shrewdness, but the alliance was at the 
expense of Wade, whose Presidential aspirations had, however, 
begun to warp his judgment, which, with his violence against 
President Lincoln and his measures, contributed to undermine 
his standing and influence with the public. 

Acting under an honest and friendly impulse, Wade was un 
willing to surrender Johnson, whom he respected, and indulged 
hopes that the President might be brought into the views of the 
Radicals. But Davis, more shrewd and sagacious, and looking 
much deeper into subjects and their results, as well as into the 
character of individuals, had no such expectation. He therefore 
paid no court to Johnson, whose principles and adamantine in 
tegrity he knew were firmly fixed. For several days in June Wade 
danced attendance on the President while holding converse with 
Davis, Thaddeus Stevens, and others, and earnestly besought 
him to convene Congress a step which was ardently pressed by 
the Radicals from all quarters. It was made plain by their own 
arguments that they wished Congress in session, not to promote 
union, but to prevent it; not to conform to the great requirements 
of the Constitution, but to disregard them; not to harmonize 
public opinion, but to prolong hostile feelings. 

Mr. Lincoln had fathomed and well understood these men 
and their purposes, and hence under no circumstances would he 
have convened Congress, where malevolent intrigues and factious 
designs could be fostered and have effect. The centralizing, 
usurping, unconstitutional purposes of the Radical leaders he 
deprecated; and they, knowing his opposition to their ultra 
schemes, had endeavored to prevent his nomination and re 
election in 1864. 

216 Civil War and Reconstruction 

It began to be intimated by the leading Radicals, and was 
soon given out by them that Henry Winter Davis would, In an 
oration which he was to deliver on the 4th of July at Chicago, 
enunciate the policy which the Federal Government must adopt, 
and it was understood to be fundamentally different from that 
which President Lincoln had initiated and President Johnson was 
pursuing. Suffrage was to be given to the negroes by the Federal 
Government; proscription was to be the doom of the rebel whites; 
death was to be the fate of the State governments. Until there 
was a radical reconstruction of the government, the people in 
the States that had participated in the rebellion were to be 
allowed no representation or any voice in the public councils, 
whatever might be their claims under constitutional guarantees. 
Emancipation of the blacks was not sufficient; the rebel whites 
were to be subjugated and politically enslaved. Congress was to 
take these subjects in hand, regardless of the Constitution; and if 
President Johnson would not at once convene that body in 
order to consummate these great ends, they were to receive im 
mediate attention, at the regular session in December, from Wade, 
Stevens, and their associates. 

Senator Wade did not until the last moment relinquish the 
hope that he could persuade President Johnson it was his duty 
to assemble Congress forthwith, and consult that branch of the 
Government on the subject of reconstruction and the resumption 
of the national authority. In two or three interviews which he had 
with me in the latter part of June, he admitted he was beginning 
to be discouraged, and I could perceive he was quite desponding. 
On one of these occasions I expressed my views freely, and stated 
that I could not see what Congress had to do with the State 
governments, unless they were anti-republican. The rebels had 
laid down their arms and submitted to law and the results of 
the war which had extinguished slavery; peace prevailed through 
out the region which had been in insurrection; the pardoning 
power was with the President; the States and the people of the 
South had their rights under the Constitution; it was for the 
best interest of the country that those rights should be recog 
nized, and the broken relations of the communities speedily 
mended, and the Union restored. No legislation on the part of 

Lincoln and Johnson 217 

the Federal Government was needed to secure this end; the 
Executive and the people could accomplish it Each House of 
Congress had the undoubted constitutional right and authority 
to judge of the qualifications of its own members^to admit, 
to refuse to admit, or to expel any one; but they possessed no 
power to deprive any of the States of their rights, or to forbid 
the people to frame, revise, and modify their Constitutions. 

Senator Wade declared his unqualified dissent from these 
views; complained that the Executive had the control of the 
Government; that the other departments were subordinate and 
powerless; said, on the whole, our form of government was a 
failure; that there are not three distinct and independent depart 
ments, but one great, absorbing, and controlling one, which had 
two others as assistants. 

Thaddeus Stevens, who with other Radicals had been in 
consultation with Henry Winter Davis, called to see me on the 
30th of June, and made some sarcastic hits at the President and 
most of his Cabinet. He expressed his contempt for State rights; 
and for any steps which would place the rebels on terms of 
equality with loyal men, his indignation was unutterable. Only 
boys, he said, ignorant of their duty, or men as incompetent as 
boys, destitute of all statesmanship, could think of reestablishing 
the rebel States, and admitting them and the rebels to participate 
in the Government with the same rights as ourselves. 

When I spoke of constitutional obligations, he said constitu 
tional obstructions; they were impediments to progress. We had, 
he averred, outgrown the garments made and put on in 1789. 
They did not fit us. The men who manufactured the Constitu 
tion had given us but a piece of patchwork at best. They did 
not like it themselves in some respects, but it was the best they 
could do under the then existing circumstances. They were very 
good men, and wise for the times in which they lived. We, how 
ever, belonged to a later age, a more advanced civilization, and 
were blockheads if we could not improve on their work. One 
of their mistakes had been almost fatal to us as a nation; had 
brought upon us civil war. It was an absurdity for us to attempt 
to go along, broken up into fifty different States or corporations; 
we must be more compact, have a nationality, and get rid of the 

218 Civil War and Recoestractkm 

ridiculous theories and fanciful notions that we were thirty or 
fifty different sovereignties. 

John Slidell, the subtle and managing secessionist, had views 
not dissimilar to Stevens of the Constitution, and as little 
reverence for it and for popular government. Each considered the 
Constitution an imperfect instrument, not adapted to the ex 
panded limits, great resources, and power of the country, or to 
the changes and advances which modem improvements had 
made. Slidell maintained the right of any State to secede or with 
draw from the Union. Stevens denied the right of secession, but 
insisted that the central Government could expel or exclude any 
State from the benefits of the Union or participation in the 
government. If these extremes did not meet in their conclusions, 
either scheme carried into effect would be subversive of the 
Constitution; each was revolutionary. 

The oration of Davis at Chicago proved to be what his party 
associates had predicted it would be the radical programme of 
the Republican party. It was a skilful, eloquent, and able exposi 
tion of Radical intentions, and of the policy which the Govern 
ment should in the view of his sect pursue. There must be no 
attempt to conciliate differences, no reconciliation, no clemency; 
the white people of the South were not to be treated as our 
equals; the negro was to be elevated. The constitutions, govern 
ments, and traditions of the States of the South were not to be 
respected. The State governments were dead, and the people 
there had no rights but such as the dominant party chose to 
give them. He said: 

The way to preserve the bond of peace is not by com 
promise or concession, or by friendly proposals. Who does 
not know that the negro is a man? State rights are re 
sponsible to the bayonet. Those great organizations that 
insolently lifted their arms in the front of battle against the 
nation, where are they now? that Virginia, the Old Dominion, 
etc. Pierpont was created her master at the bidding of na 
tional necessity, and because the nation required that the 
old government of Virginia should cease to exist. States are 
. immortal, but State governments that are organized by men, 
and may be used for selfish purposes, perverted to the pur- 

Lincoln and Johnson 219 

poses of treason to defy the Union, are, by the laws of the 
United States, not immortal, but amenable to the laws as 
men, and die by treason. 

They have suffered, and suffered much, by the confisca 
tion of their slaves; the next best punishment is to deprive 
them of the rights of citizenship. 

I am no enthusiast. I am very little of a philanthropist 
I have no supreme love of the intellectual superiority of the 
negro over the white, but I know his vote is important, and 
if I have not much respect for justice and humanity, I have 
for the five-twenties. I have great respect for the integrity 
of the Government and the possibility of carrying on its 
machinery, and if their Constitution does not give the mass 
of negroes the right of voting on equal terms with the loyal 
white man, the safety of the nation requires, republican prin 
ciples require, that no such government shall be recognized 
as republican in form, that no Representative or Senator 
from such a State shall be admitted to either House, or even 
complimented with the privilege of the floor. We need the 
votes of all the colored people; it is numbers, not intelligence, 
that counts at the ballot-box; it is right intention, not phi 
losophic judgment, that casts the vote. 

Let them (Congress) pass by their two-thirds majority, 
in both Houses of Congress, an amendment of the Constitu 
tion, securing forever the mass of the people as the basis of 
the republican government of the United States, and submit 
it, this very coming winter, before the Legislatures adjourn, 
for their confirmation. 

Such were some of the utterances of the ablest Radical leader 
their oracle, and boldest and most skilful manager who placed 
himself in antagonism to the peaceful, constitutional, and mag 
nanimous policy of Presidents Lincoln and Johnson. Enfranchise 
ment of the negroes, disfranchisement of the whites, death to 
State governments and States rights, exclusion of the rebel States 
from representation in the Senate, or of the people in the House, 
amendment of the Constitution by snap judgment, etc., were 
the Radical doctrines. 

Most of that small combination of Radicals who concocted 
the plan which Davis proclaimed at Chicago had been opposed 

220 Civil War and Reconstruction 

to the reelection of Mr. Lincoln, and were avowedly hostile to 
his ideas of clemency, general amnesty, and a restoration of the 
Union on the Federal basis of a political equality of the States. 
Henry Winter Davis was the prime mover and actual leader of 
this Radical combination, which in the summer of 1865 laid 
down the chart that, by caucus machinery, guided and governed 
that party in after years. He possessed intellectual vigor, culture, 
grasp, and comprehension, which inspired and subordinated 
Wade, and was endowed with physical as well as mental ability 
and activity, that gave him advantages over Stevens, who had, 
perhaps, as suggestive, fertile, and adroit a mind. Stevens, how 
ever, was infirm from age, was deformed, and a cripple. Davis 
moved on for a time, the pioneer of the Radicals in their war 
upon the Administration. But this rising genius was stricken 
down at the commencement of what he and his friends antici 
pated was to be a brilliant and successful career. He died of 
fever at Baltimore in December. His early death was severely 
felt by his Radical associates, who resorted to extraordinary means 
to embalm his memory and give strength to the political views he 
had promulgated, and which became the text-book and guide 
of his party. 

Congress, when it assembled, passed resolutions of respect 
for Abraham Lincoln, and measures were taken for an official 
observance of the national bereavement. Mr. Stanton, Secretary 
of War, was selected to pronounce a eulogy on the murdered 
President But the Radical leaders, who were opposed to Presi 
dent Lincoln and his policy, were determined the occasion should 
not pass without a similar official Congressional demonstration 
to their selected and brilliant leader, Henry Winter Davis, not 
withstanding he died of fever In Baltimore, a private citizen. 
He had been the master spirit, the leading Radical opponent 
of the policy of the late and present Presidents; his followers, 
having the control of Congress, resolved on an apotheosis to 
Davis, and that the same official tokens of respect, the same 
Congressional honors and observances which were rendered the 
murdered Lincoln, should be awarded to the Radical, Davis. 
Mr. Stanton, who respected Lincoln, but was nevertheless in 
strong sympathy with the Radicals, became embarrassed by these 

Lincoln and Johnson 221 

intrigues, hesitated, and finally declined to deliver the euloghun 
on the deceased President. George Bancroft, unconnected with 
the Lincoln Administration, was selected as his substitute. 

The eulogy on Mr. Lincoln was delivered in the hall of the 
House of Representatives on the 12th of February, the anni 
versary of his birth. Congress adjourned for that purpose. 

J. A. J. Creswell, at that time a Senator from Maryland, now 
Postmaster-General, was chosen to deliver an oration before the 
Government and two Houses of Congress, in commemoration of 
Davis, the Radical leader. The day selected for this singular and 
unprecedented proceeding as regards a private citizen, who was 
no public benefactor and had no public reputation save that 
of a mere political partisan, was the 22d of February, the anni 
versary of the birth of Washington. The solemnities and observ 
ances were the same in form as for President Lincoln, to whose 
policy he was opposed. The Representatives Hall, in the Capitol 
of the nation, was the place of these obsequies. The hall was 
draped with crape, flags, and all the insignia and emblems of 
mourning that had been bestowed on the deceased President, 
and no effort was spared by Congress to give this Radical leader 
who was a private citizen of Baltimore the same official honor 
and respect that were shown to the Chief Magistrate of the 
nation, who had been assassinated while in the public service. 

But few, comparatively, sympathized with the violent Radicals 
at the beginning of their opposition to peaceable reconstruction. 
Tired of "war and all its horrid cost/ its calamities and abuses, 
devoted to the Union, and earnestly desiring reconciliation and 
peace, the masses were, like Mr. Lincoln and his successor, for 
conciliation and the restoration of friendly feelings. But the 
expression of these sentiments subjected those Republicans who 
uttered them to sneers and assaults from Radical partisans. The 
men who advocated clemency, union, and peace, were denounced 
as in alliance with Copperheads, as rebel sympathizers, not truly 
loyal, men of unsound principles. In the party organizations and 
elections they were stigmatized as traitors, disloyal or suspected 
persons, who could not be trusted, and the Radicals of the party 
declared they would not vote for such candidates. The conse 
quence was that good and calm patriotic Republicans were pro- 

222 Civil War and Reconstruction 

scribed, and aspiring politicians of the Republican party feared 
to exercise moderation or express Union opinions. Hate and 
revenge toward the South became tests of political orthodoxy, 
and in nearly every district in the North only such persons as 
would vilify the President and denounce the South were selected 
as candidates by the Republican party organizations. 

The extreme men of the South were in some localities as 
rash, unreasonable, and impracticable as the Radicals of the 
North, and for a time gave the Administration scarcely less 
embarrassment. War and defeat had not extinguished that super 
cilious arrogance which they whimsically called "chivalry," and 
had cherished for a generation. These pupils of nullification 
hastened to press forward into prominent positions, State and 
national, some of the most conspicuous and offensive rebels. It 
was a feeble exhibition of the sense, or want of sense, of nullify 
ing chivalry. The mild and generous policy of the Administra 
tion they misconstrued and abused, and the old party feeling and 
sectional animosity which had prevailed before the war were 
revived, and received encouragement by lenity. Intimations and 
suggestions that slavery would be established under another form, 
that the blacks should be allowed no civil rights, that the rate 
of wages should be regulated by law, that negroes should own 
no real estate, and other as unjust and wrongful propositions, 
were thrown out, and in some communities were sanctioned. 
It was declared, moreover, that the South by a united representa 
tion of secessionists in Congress, in alliance with the Democrats 
of the North, would have a controlling majority, and that thus, 
by party political action, they would achieve what they had been 
unable to accomplish by arms, and in diis way the "Lost Cause" 
would be eventually triumphant. 

These indirect schemes and inconsiderate threats and pro 
ceedings were just such materials to provoke the popular mind 
as the Radicals desired, and they availed themselves of them with 
effect Nor were the more violent Democrats those who were 
stigmatized as Copperheads for a time wise and judicious in 
many respects, but gave force to Radical schemes by boasting 
that the Democratic party, by Southern aid, would soon be in 
the ascendant. They openly admitted that they had more regard 

Lincoln nnd Johnson 225 

for the secessionists than for the Radicals, and would readily* 
when they had opportunity, coalesce with them. IE some instance 
repudiation of the war debt was threatened, so soon as they could 
obtain power; and it was claimed by some that the rebel war 
debt had equal merit with that of the Government. The spirit 
of party, which, carried to excess, often undermines and destroys 
the judgment, and incapacitates bodies of men from acting 
wisely and well, stimulated the violent and rash Radicals, Seces 
sionists, and Copperheads alike against the Administration. In 
their zeal for party, the extremists were forgetful of country. 
Faction fortified and strengthened itself at the expense of the 
Constitution and good government. 

There was but little difficulty on the part of the Radicals in 
creating alarm and exciting the apprehensions of the Union men* 
who had not yet recovered from the war feeling, nor had they 
entirely overcome the resentment which the causeless rebellion 
had provoked. Every hamlet, and almost every household, 
mourned the loss of brave and devoted men, who had given their 
lives to put down the rebellion and maintain the integrity of the 
Union. The memory of the departed, and the recollection of 
their own sacrifices and sufferings, were aroused by the appeals 
and representations which the Radicals made of the danger of 
a coalition between the Copperheads, who had been indifferent 
to their calamities, and the Secessionists who had caused them. 
Instead of denying or counteracting these representations, or 
taking any measures to defeat their effects, many of the Demo 
cratic presses and leaders, by their bold defiance, their boastful 
claim of anticipated party ascendancy, and their threat that 
there was to be a change and reversal of measures and policy, 
contributed to strengthen the Radical movements. 

Both extremes, North and South, by these ultra views, thwart 
ed and embarrassed the Administration in its efforts to re- 
establish the State governments and restore the Union; but they 
were actuated by opposite motives. The South, discouraged, im 
poverished, and subdued, was recovering from the delusions of 
Quixotic chivalry, and beginning to revive and become hopeful, 
and gradually gave its confidence to the President and his Ad 
ministration. The North, under the vindictive and persecuting 

224 Civil War and Reconstruction 

teachings and influences of the Radicals, began to grow sus 
picious of and ultimately hostile to the President whom they had 
elected, and such of the Cabinet as had counselled and sustained 
him and Mr. Lincoln. Through the summer and autumn the 
conflicting elements were at work. The President, conscious of 
right intentions, and with unabated confidence in the people, 
labored incessantly, night and day, in the great work of pro 
moting peace and reestablishing the government and the Union. 
Admonitions of secret operations against him, made by such 
of his friends as were aware of the intrigues at work, and 
who foresaw and deprecated the gathering storm, were not 
regarded. He who alone of all the Senators from the South 
had denounced secession in the national Capitol as treason, 
and its leaders as traitors; who had made such sacrifices to 
resist secession; who had perilled and lost so much in the Union 
cause; whose home had been made desolate; whose family had 
been broken up; whose social and political associations and 
friendships had been destroyed; whose children had fallen vic 
tims of the war; who himself had been a refugee from his State 
and an exile from his home for many years for his devotion to 
the Union he would not permit himself to believe that any 
considerable portion of his intelligent countrymen would allow 
themselves to be persuaded that he was not faithful to the cause 
with which he was identified, and in which he had suffered so 
much. But with partisans these sacrifices, this sincerity, this 
earnest devotion to the public good and the general welfare 
were nothing. He reverenced the Constitution, respected indi 
vidual and State rights, and would not knowingly trespass upon 
either; while his Radical opponents, under real or affected 
philanthropy, were disregardful of each. Claiming to be the 
friends of the Union, they resisted every movement made and 
every step taken to restore it, except upon terms unknown to the 
Constitution, and on conditions which they should dictate. The 
President was at first calumniated in whispered slanders, assailed 
as a Southern man whose sympathies were with the secessionists, 
or a Democrat who never had abandoned his original State- 
rights principles; a false Republican; a traitor to the party 
which elected him, and not to be politically trusted. Members 

Lincoln and Johnson 225 

of Congress, of the Radical type, were in active correspondence 
during the entire vacation in secret defamation, sowing the seeds 
of enmity among his friends and supporters. 

Warned though he was, the President continued incredulous. 
He hesitated, was disinclined to appoint Democrats to office, 
and would not for months consent to the removal of Radicals, 
however violent, unscrupulous, and malignant their opposition 
to him. Yet the report was everywhere circulated among the 
Republicans that he favored the Democrats, was appointing them 
to office, or was going to; that he was exerting himself to under 
mine and destroy the Republican party, and was using the patron 
age of the Government for that purpose. This unjust, untruth 
ful, ungenerous warfare was persistently carried on for months, 
while he pursued the even tenor of his way, and steadily re 
fused to adopt any retaliatory or even opposing measures. His 
position was anomalous. He had no sympathy with the extremes 
of either party, for he was neither a secessionist nor an exclu* 
sionist. With him the Union of the States and the rights of the 
States were living principles. He had, in 1861, resisted a dis 
solution of the Union by secession, and became alienated from 
his old political associates in consequence. In 1865 he denied 
the right of the central Government to exercise imperial power 
and exclude the erring States from rights which they had re 
served and never surrendered rights recognized and guaranteed 
by the Constitution and essential to our Federal system, and 
thereby incurred the lasting resentment of the Radicals. 

President Johnson, it must be remembered, entered upon his 
duties as Chief Magistrate at a most critical and trying period, 
and under the most extraordinary and calamitous circumstances 
that ever befell a nation, or placed an individual at the head of 
a government. The chief under whose benignant guidance the 
war had been brought to a successful termination had been assas 
sinated in the hour of triumph; the Union was divided in feel 
ing, if not sundered in fact, by sectional animosity; the civil 
service was deranged and embarrassed by Congressional innova 
tions and assumptions; the concentrated hate of party bitterness, 
fostered for years by ambitious leaders, was rife; the national 
relations of one-third of the States and people to the Union were 

226 Civil War and Reconstruction 

broken or suspended; the civil, industrial, and social structure 
of society in those States was overthrown; the contending armies 
were about to be disbanded; and under his ministration, these 
conflicting elements, which for four years had been arrayed in 
hostility against each other, were to be reconciled, reunited, and 
the people, if possible, be again made friends. With a conviction 
that the responsibility of good government and the welfare of a 
whole people were in a great measure upon him, he was not 
long in coming to the conclusion that persecution would not 
beget fraternal feeling, nor would oppression or arbitrary rule 
conduce to union, harmony, and peace. It would not have been 
surprising had there been lingering remains of resentment on his 
part for causeless calamities which the country had experienced, 
and which had fallen with peculiar severity upon himself and 
family. But all personal resentments were by him soon dismissed, 
if not forgotten, and kindness, forbearance, and tolerance were 
substituted, and became the policy of his Administration, as it 
had been the policy of his immediate predecessor. Elected with 
Mr. Lincoln, he inherited and adopted his measures, and also the 
Cabinet which had counselled and advised those measures. He 
inherited also as a legacy the general demoralization that war 
had introduced into the civil administration, by which members 
of Congress usurped the constitutional prerogatives of the Execu 
tive and dictated appointments. The tolerant and benevolent 
policy which Mr. Lincoln initiated and Mr. Johnson adopted 
toward the South, was opposed by the party which elected them. 
The extreme men of that party assumed for the Government 
imperial and arbitrary authority over the States and people of the 
South, denied them equality of rights, and shut them out from 
representation and many of their constitutional guarantees. Par 
ties when in power often, and sometimes speedily, become 
oblivious of the principles which gave them existence and success. 
The Republican party had its origin in resistance to aggressions 
by the Federal Government, which under Pierce and Buchanan 
attempted to impose a constitution and obnoxious government 
on the people of Kansas in opposition to their wishes and will. 
But the same party in 1865, and subsequently, forgetful of its 
professions and principles in the case of Kansas ten years before, 

Lincoln and Johnson 227 

did not scruple to disregard the popular will In each of the 
Southern States, and insist on dictating to the people of each 
in regard to their constitutions, and, in violation of the principles 
of freedom and self-government, broke down their State govern 
ments and placed them under central military control. It was 
not sufficient that the people of those States modified their 
constitutions and laws so as to conform to the results of the war; 
their governments thus modified were overthrown, and the 
President was denounced because he would not unite in these 
anti-republican movements. With him the Union of the States 
and the rights of the States based on popular sovereignty were 
cardinal points. With his opponents, an imperial central gov 
ernment, which should hold the States in subjection and allow 
them no rights but such as Congress might grant, was the aim 
and rule. The President recognized the States South and North 
as equal in political rights, and the whole people as fellow- 
citizens. His opponents denied these positions, refused to admit 
the political equality of the States, and excluded both States and 
people from the national legislature, where laws were enacted for 
the whole country. It was the misfortune of President Johnson 
and his Administration that those who elected him were so 
diametrically opposed to him on those fundamental principles 
which are the basis of our system, and it was probably an error 
that he and his old political friends did not come to prompt 
understanding, and unite to sustain and carry into effect those 
principles wherein they agreed. Had that course been pursued 
the Lincoln and Johnson plan of peaceful reconstruction and 
resumption of national authority might have been successful, 
and military domination avoided. 

The time has not arrived perhaps for a full and impartial 
history of all the events of that period, when the principle of 
voluntary secession had just been suppressed by war, and the 
principle of central imperial exclusion from the National Council 
was being inaugurated by the victors. 


The History of Emancipation 

The problem of slavery was one of the most difficult 
issues facing the Lincoln administration. How the Presi 
dent, in spite of his conservatism, came to the conclusion 
that emancipation in the insurgent states was essential 
constitutes the main theme of Welles s account. The 
article s most interesting portions reveal the Cabinet s 
reactions to Lincoln s announced decision to issue an 
emancipation proclamation. 


treatment and disposition of slaves who were captured, 
or who came within the lines of the Union armies, were in the 
early days of the war perplexing questions, and contributed to 
embarrass the Government and confuse individuals. By the Con 
stitution, from which the Administration derived its authority, 
the institution of slavery was recognized, and the right of property 
in slaves, secured by the local law, was protected. Neither the 
President nor any member of the Cabinet was disposed to inter 
fere with the institution of slavery, or believed the Government 
could legally interfere. Mr. Lincoln had declared previous to his 
election, and reiterated at his inauguration "I have no purpose, 
directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery 
in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do 
so, and I have no inclination to do so." Notwithstanding all this, 
he was denounced as an abolitionist, and it was persistently 
maintained that it was his purpose and the purpose of his Ad 
ministration to set free the slaves. The members of the Adminis 
tration, though selected from the old opposing traditional parties, 

The Galaxy, XIV (December, 1872). 

The History of Emancipation 229 

were, like the President, for preserving inviolable the constitu 
tional compact in regard to slavery. In the controversy which 
followed the acquisition of territory from Mexico and the settle 
ment and organization of Kansas, they had been united in 
affirming the nationality of freedom and opposing the extension 
of slavery into the territories. Slavery being the creature of local, 
not of national law, the President and the members of the 
Cabinet, though of different party antecedents, had each, in the 
Presidential elections of 1856 and 1860, advocated the policy of 
strict construction and of limiting human servitude to the States 
which authorized its existence. They denied that the Federal 
Government was empowered to transplant or establish slavery in 
the territories where it had no existence, but insisted that it was, 
and must remain, the creature of local municipal laws. This 
policy of non-actionrefusal to assume ungranted power, or to 
exercise jurisdiction in behalf of slavery beyond the boundaries of 
the States, except that of returning slaves to their owners under 
the constitutional provision was the extent of the abolitionism 
of the President and Cabinet; yet this policy of non-action and of 
strict construction was made the basis of disaffection and civil 
war. Soon after hostilities commenced fugitives from servitude 
began to come to Washington, and appeared on the decks of 
our vessels and within the lines of the Union armies. For a time 
the owners secessionists as well as Union men reclaimed their 
slaves under the laws and Constitution; and in many instances 
the fugitives were surrendered by the military commanders to 
their rebel masters, who invoked for this species of property the 
assistance and protection of the laws and the very government 
which they and their associates repudiated and defied. What, it 
began to be asked, is the status what are the rights of these men 
who spurn the Constitution and are making war upon the Gov 
ernment? If they have thrown off their allegiance and refuse to 
acknowledge any obligation to the Government if they are not 
citizens of the United States, as they affirm they are not, but are 
alien enemies what right have they to appeal to the laws of the 
United States, and demand that the bondsmen who have left them 
and sought freedom under the flag shall be returned to their 
rebel masters and the rebel governments and to bondage? Could 

230 Civil War and Reconstruction 

the Administration allow itself to consider and treat these slave 
owners as alien enemies? Could the Government admit that 
secession was so far an accomplished fact as to place those who 
resided within the limits of a rebel State beyond the pale of the 
laws which ordered slaves to be restored to their owners? If they 
owed allegiance to the Government, as they undoubtedly did, 
was it not the duty of the Government to protect them in person 
and property? 

Application from commanders on duty soon began to reach 
the War and Navy Departments, asking for instructions how to 
proceed, and what to do with the fugitive slaves who fled to us 
and asked protection. This, in the early days of the insurrection, 
was a difficult problem, and in the new and singular state of 
affairs, for which no legal provision had been made, did not 
receive final formal decision from the Government. The Secre 
taries of War and the Navy, in the absence of distinct action by 
the Administration, were compelled to take the responsibility 
of giving such instructions to the officers as in their judgment 
was best for the public welfare. Every movement of the Executive 
was watched and scanned by opposing factions in the free States 
as earnestly as in the slave States. One party insisted that the 
President was tender toward the slave-owners; the other de 
clared it to be his purpose to oppress and rob them; while his 
wish and intention were to obey the laws, administer them justly, 
protect individuals, observe State and federal as well as personal 
rights, and maintain the Union at all hazards and at any sacri 
fice. Neither the Secretary of War nor the Secretary of the Navy 
shrank from the responsibility of meeting and disposing of this 
difficult subject, so far as it devolved on them. In the conflict 
of authorities between the States and the General Government, 
the consequent quasi suspension of the laws, and the unsettled 
condition of affairs, no more was put upon paper than was 
necessary. Verbal instructions were given to the commanders not 
to entice slaves to come to them, but to receive, feed, and employ 
such as fled from any States which had passed a secession ordi 
nance and was by force resisting the Government. Slaves from the 
non-seceding slave States who came to our vessels or navy-yards 
were restored to the owners who reclaimed them pursuant to 

The History of Emancipation 231 

law. In some instances, where fugitives had deserted loyal 
owners in Virginia and were retained by us, and in others where 
they had fled from violent and outspoken rebels in Maryland, 
but were surrendered, this rule operated harshly. There seemed, 
however, for the time, no alternative. The action of the States 
respectively controlled the action of the departments in these 
cases. Those States which, by their legislatures and conventions, 
had assumed the right and undertaken to dissolve their con 
nection with the Government, to secede from the Union, and 
were resisting by armed force the national authority, were not 
entitled, while in arms against the Government, to claim its 
assistance to subjugate and deprive persons, black or white, of 
their freedom. But slaveholders residing in non-seceding States, 
although themselves in sympathy and opinion with the seces- 
sionists, yet had committed no overt act, were under the aegis 
of the Federal Constitution, protected by the laws, and secure 
in their rights. There were some hard and afflictive cases un 
der this ruling, when slaves were sent back to servitude tinder 
cruel and really disloyal masters on one side of the Potomac in 
Maryland, while the owners on the opposite side of the river in 
Virginia, though loyal to the Union, lost their slave property. 
There was sympathy for the sufferers in each case, and anathemas 
and wrathful indignation against the Government in both for 
its alleged severity, inhumanity, and injustice. Not only the 
opponents of the Administration, but many of its friends and 
supporters, who took only a superficial view of the subject, 
joined in these denunciations. 

Every step taken by the Navy Department on this question, 
its instructions, and its policy, were reported to the President, 
who approved of them without reserve, modification, or qualifi 
cation. The course of the Secretary of War was very similar, 
though then and when making up his annual report a few 
months later he was more demonstrative, and took advanced 
positions on the slavery question, which, if such were the fixed 
and determined policy of the Administration, might have been 
more appropriately enunciated by the President than by one 
of the departments. The officers of the navy conformed to the 
instructions and views of the Navy Department, and with, I 

232 Civil War and Reconstruction 

believe, a single exception, returned no slaves to their previous 
owners in the rebel States. None were repelled who came on board 
our ships or sought protection under the flag. In the armies 
there were widely differing views and practice. Some of the 
generals, looking to the laws and not to the Executive or depart 
ment for authority, were for excluding slaves from the Union 
lines, and if they came, for delivering them up to their rebel 
masters, using in some instances Union soldiers for that purpose. 
Others, taking a different view and going to greater length than 
their instructions would warrant, invited the slaves to their 
standard and proclaimed freedom to all who came or were 
within their departments. The orders and assumptions of some of 
the military commanders caused uneasiness, and in several in 
stances rendered necessary counter and annulling orders by the 
President. It was evident to most of the dispassionate and clear 
minds of the country that the secessionists had by their own acts 
struck a fatal blow to the institution of slavery, yet the country 
was not fully prepared to pronounce freedom to all slaves. The 
orders of such officers as Generals McClellan, Halleck, Dix, 
and others, prohibiting the fugitives from coming within the 
army lines, caused great dissatisfaction in the North without 
appeasing any at the South. 

As late as the 19th of May, 1862, the President by proclama 
tion annulled a document of General Hunter, proclaiming free 
dom to the slaves of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In 
that proclamation the President said: "I further make known 
that whether it be competent for me as Commander-in-Chief of 
the Army and Navy to declare the slaves of any State or States 
free, and whether at any time, in any case, it shall have become a 
necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government 
to exercise such supposed power, are questions which under my 
responsibility I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justi 
fied in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field." 

For more than a year this annoying and preplexing question 
had on the frontier or border States, on the Gulf of Mexico, on 
the Atlantic coast, and on the Potomac, embarrassed the Ad 
ministration. The shield which, by the compromises of the Con 
stitution and the laws of the country, was thrown over the in- 

The History of Emancipation 233 

stitution of slavery, and the property rights of the slave owners* 
were respected by the Administration long after it was known 
that the rebels were directly and indirectly employing their 
slaves in the war against the Government, But as the war pro 
gressed the anti-slavery feeling increased. There was a reluctance, 
however, on the part of the Government to adopt measures^ 
even under the reverses of war, which conflicted with the com* 
promises of the Constitution. The President seemed more averse 
than Congress, where party feeling prevailed notwithstanding 
the war, to touch this delicate question. Much has been justly 
said and written on his philanthropic and humanitarian feelings, 
and it is asserted that his benevolence prompted the proclamation 
of emancipation. He had the kind and generous nature imputed 
to him, but in his official relations and in issuing the proclama 
tion of freedom he was governed, not by sympathy for the slave, 
but by a sense of duty, and the obligations which as Chief 
Magistrate he owed to his country. 

To conciliate and retain the border States, torn by intestine 
factions, in their rightful position, required for a period all the 
skill, tact, and ability of the President, aided by the best minds 
and talents of the country. No means had been left unem 
ployed by the rebel leaders to detach these States from the 
Union, and the slavery element, in which they had a com 
mon interest with the rebels, was the instrumentality on 
which they chiefly relied to effect a separation. Hatred of 
the abolitionists and the radical portion of the Republican party 
was as intense in the border States as further South; but a 
majority of the people in that belt of States were patriotic and 
loved the Union, to which they dung with a devotion unsur 
passed in any section. They had, moreover, a growing confidence 
in the President, and in their great trouble they looked to him, 
who was overwhelmed with the calamities of the nation and 
people he had been elected to govern and was striving to recon 
cile, for support and protection. Step by step, yet with hesitation, 
Congress ventured, as hostilities were prolonged and increased, 
to take measures restrictive of the disturbing element which 
originated and aggravated the war. Each and every movement was 
resisted by the opponents of the Administration, and on each its 

234 Civil War and Reconstruction 

friends were divided; but by degrees, though gradual, the posi 
tive element made advances. Congress delayed, however, to go 
to the root of the difficulty, and strike for general emancipation. 

Convinced that the disturbing cause of our national diffi 
culties must be removed in order to restore and perpetuate unity, 
the President conceived the idea of compensated, prospective 
emancipation, and for a time fostered the scheme of a voluntary 
movement by the border States. A part of this scheme was a 
plan for the deportation of the colored race; for Mr. Lincoln had 
a belief, amounting almost to conviction, that the two races 
could not long dwell together in unity and as equals in their 
social relations. There was, he thought, a natural antagonism 
between the whites and blacks which could not and ought not 
to be overcome. He therefore, at an early period of his adminis 
tration, some time before his emancipation proclamation was 
projected, devised plans for the deportation and colonizing of 
the colored population, and especially of slaves who might thence 
forward receive their freedom. In these various projects of de 
portation and colonization he was earnestly sustained by the 
Attorney-General, Mr. Bates, the Postmaster-General, Mr. Blair, 
and the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Caleb Smith; but each and 
every device, and especially the Thompson proposition for a 
colony at Chiriqui, and the Senator Pomeroy scheme to trans 
plant our negroes to Central America or the West Indies, proved 
signal failures. 

Although there was little doubt after war commenced that 
chattel slavery was doomed, there was much doubt and un 
certainty when and in what manner its total extinction was to 
be brought about. Men and parties paused when they approached 
the subject of setting free the laboring millions of the South, a 
movement fraught with consequences, immediate and remote, 
such as human foresight could not penetrate. The executive and 
legislative authorities hesitated to strike the first effective blow, 
yet each seconded and sustained the propositions, and advances 
of the other. The President, practical, sagacious, and shrewd, 
suggested that the border States, in view of the impending and 
certain fate of slavery, should avail themselves of an opportunity 
to set free their bondsmen, and that they should receive pecuniary 

The History of Emancipation 235 

compensation for the act Were they to take the initiative m 
emancipation, which they as distinct commonwealths, having 
each within itself entire and absolute control of the subject, 
could do, it would relieve the Government, which was engaged In 
a life struggle with the rebels in the cotton and rice growing 
region, of serious embarrassment in dealing with a question that 
was not national, but had been expressly reserved to the States. 
It would be the beginning of a movement that would sweep the 
whole South, and end in general emancipation. He therefore on 
the 6th of March, 1862, addressed a message to Congress, recom 
mending that "the United States ought to cooperate with any 
State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving 
to such State pecuniary aid," etc. 

In a conference which he invited with the border State dele 
gations a few days later the 10th of March-he explained more 
in detail his views; but his policy of voluntary emancipation did 
not meet a favorable response. Congress, however, expressed its 
concurrence in the project, but did not make the necessary con 
tingent appropriation, which would have encouraged and justi 
fied the authorities of any State that might entertain the proposi 

The policy of voluntary emancipation by the States was per- 
severingly pressed for some months; but not succeeding, that 
of general emancipation began to be entertained, though not 
until after fifteen months of active hostilities, during which the 
Government exercised extraordinary forbearance, and every 
effort to induce State action was a failure. In July, after the 
reverses before Richmond, the President visited the army at 
Harrison s Landing. From his observances in that visit he be 
came convinced that the war must be prosecuted with more 
vigor, and that some decisive measures were necessary on the 
slavery question, not only to reconcile public sentiment and to 
consolidate and make uniform military action, but to bring the 
slave element to our aid instead of having it turned against us. 
Some of the generals assumed that they should be governed by 
the laws and not by military necessity and executive orders; and 
there was a belief, hardly a design perhaps, among a few of their 
indiscreet partisans, that these generals, better than the Ad- 

236 Civil War and Reconstruction 

ministration, could prescribe the course of governmental action. 

General McClellan, popular with the army, which was com 
posed of citizens who were voters and a political power in this 
respect, flattered himself and was persuaded by others that he, 
though not always consistent, could mark out a course of civil 
administration that would be acceptable to the whole country. 
In a letter of the 7th of July, 1862, written at Harrison s Landing, 
he proffered to President Lincoln much unasked-for political 
advice, some of which, if sound in principle, was extraordinary 
in its language and almost mandatory in its terms. Among other 
things he informed the President that "military government 
should be confined to the preservation of public order and the 
protection of political rights. Military power should not be al 
lowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by sup 
porting or impairing the authority of the master, except for 
repressing disorder as in other cases. Slaves, contraband under 
the act of Congress, seeking military protection, should receive 
it. The right of the Government to appropriate permanently to 
its own service claims to slave labor should be asserted, and the 
right of the owner to compensation therefor should be recog 

That singular letter from the General at the head of the 
armies to the Chief Magistrate under whom he served struck the 
President painfully, but he was not insensible to any valuable 
salutary suggestions that were made by the military commander 
whom he had most trusted. The reverses before Richmond un 
doubtedly hastened the movement of emancipation. Until those 
disasters, the President had hoped the rebellion would be sup 
pressed without disturbing the compromises of the Constitution, 
or requiring Federal action on a subject which was expressly 
reserved to the States. Returning from the headquarters of the 
army, which he visited on the 8th of July, and grieved with what 
he had witnessed, he resolved to make one more earnest effort 
with the delegations from the border States to initiate a policy of 
voluntary emancipation by those States. He prepared a carefully 
written speech on board the steamer before he reached Washing 
ton, which he read to the border State representatives in a con 
ference which he invited at the executive mansion on Saturday, 

The History of Emancipation 237 

the 12th o July. As had been the case with all the movements 
which he made in that direction, he received little encouragement 
at this interview, though the plan was for their benefit and the 
substantial interest of the whole country. The discussion, though 
harmonious and frank, gave him little or no hope of success, and 
its unpromising aspect greatly depressed him. The delegations 
were to give him their answer soon, but the debate left Mm in 
no doubt of its character, and he felt the necessity of adopting 
a different policy. 

On Sunday, the 13th of July, the day following this last hope 
less interview, the President invited Mr. Seward and myself to 
accompany him in his carriage to the funeral of an infant child 
of Secretary Stanton. At that time Mr. Stanton occupied for a 
summer residence the house of a naval officer, some two or three 
miles west or northwest of Georgetown. It was on this occasion 
and this ride that he first mentioned to Mr. Seward and myself 
that he had about come to the conclusion that, if the rebels per 
sisted in their war upon the Government, it would be a necessity 
and a duty on our part to liberate their slaves. He was convinced, 
he said, that we could not carry on a successful war by longer 
pursuing a temporizing and forbearing policy toward those who 
disregarded law and Constitution, and were striving by every 
means to break up the Union. Decisive and extreme measures 
must be adopted. His reluctance to meddle with this question, 
around which there were thrown constitutional safeguards, and 
on which the whole Southern mind was sensitive, was great He 
had tried various expedients to escape issuing an executive order 
emancipating the slaves, the last and only alternative, but it was 
forced upon him by the rebels themselves. He saw no escape. 
Turn which way he would, this disturbing element which 
caused the war rose up against us, and it was an insuperable 
obstacle to peace. He had entertained hopes that the border 
States, in view of what appeared to him inevitable if the war 
continued, would consent to some plan of prospective and com 
pensated emancipation; but all his suggestions, some made as 
early as March, met with disfavor, although actual hostilities had 
then existed for a year. Congress was now about adjourning, and 
had done nothing final and conclusive perhaps could do nothing 

238 Civil War and Reconstruction 

on this question. He had since his return from the army the 
last week called the members of Congress from the border States 
together, and presented to them the difficulties which he en 
countered, in hopes they would be persuaded, in the gloomy 
condition of affairs, to take the initiative step toward eman 
cipation; but they hesitated, and he apprehended would do 
nothing. Attached as most of them and a large majority of their 
constituents were to what they called their labor system, they 
felt it would be unjust for the Government which they supported 
to compel them to abandon that system, while the States in 
flagrant rebellion retained their slaves and were spared the 
sacrifice. A movement toward emancipation in the border States 
while slavery was recognized and permitted in the rebel States 
would, they believed, detach many from the Union cause and 
strengthen the insurrection. There was, he presumed, some 
foundation for their apprehension. What had been done and 
what he had heard satisfied him that a change of policy in the 
conduct of the war was necessary, and that emancipation of the 
slaves in the rebel States must precede that in the border States. 
The blow must fall first and foremost on them. Slavery was 
doomed. This war, brought upon the country by the slave-owners, 
would extinguish slavery, but the border States could not be 
induced to lead in that measure. They would not consent to be 
convinced or persuaded to take the first step. Forced emancipation 
in the States which continued to resist the Government would of 
course be followed by voluntary emancipation in the loyal States, 
with the aid we might give them. Further efforts with the border 
States would, he thought, be useless. That was not the road to 
lead us out of this difficulty. We must take a different path. We 
wanted the army to strike more vigorous blows. The Administra 
tion must set the army an example, and strike at the heart of 
the rebellion. The country, he thought, was prepared for it. The 
army would be with us. War had removed constitutional obliga 
tions and restrictions with the declared rebel communities. The 
law required us to return the fugitives who escaped to us. This 
we could and must do with friends, but not with enemies. We 
invited all, bond and free, to desert those who were in flagrant 

The History of Emancipation 259 

war upon the Union and come to us; and uniting with us they 
must be made free from rebel authorities and rebel masters. 

If there was no constitutional authority in the Government to 
emancipate the slaves, neither was there any authority, specified 
or reserved, for the slaveholders to resist the Government or 
secede from it. They could not at the same time throw off the 
Constitution and invoke its aid. Having made war upon the 
Government, they were subject to the incidents and calamities 
of war, and it was our duty to avail ourselves of every necessary 
measure to maintain the Union. If the rebels did not cease their 
war, they must take the consequences of war. He dwelt earnestly 
on the gravity, importance, and delicacy of the movement, which 
he had approached with reluctance, but he saw no evidence of a 
cessation of hostilities; said he had given the subject much 
thought, and had about come to the conclusion that it was a 
military necessity, absolutely essential to the preservation of the 
Union. We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued. The 
slaves were undeniably an element of strength to those who had 
their service, and we must decide whether that element should be 
with us or against us. For a long time the subject had lain 
heavy on his mind. His interview with the representatives of the 
border States had forced him slowly but he believed correctly to 
this conclusion, and this present opportunity was the first oc 
casion he had had of mentioning to any one his convictions of 
what in his opinion must be our course. He wished us to state 
frankly, not immediately, how the proposition of emancipation 
struck us, in case of the continued persistent resistance to Federal 

Mr. Seward remarked that the subject involved consequences 
so vast and momentous, legal and political, he should wish to 
bestow on it mature reflection before advising or giving a decisive 
answer; but his present opinion inclined to the measure as justi 
fiable, and perhaps he might say expedient and necessary. These 
were essentially my views, more matured perhaps, for I had 
practically been dealing with slavery from the beginning as a 
wrecked institution. During that ride the subject was the absorb 
ing theme, and before separating the President requested us to 

240 Civil War and Reconstruction 

give it early, especial, and deliberate consideration, for he was 
earnest in the conviction that the time had arrived when decisive 
action must be taken; that the Government could not be justitfied 
in any longer postponing it; that it was forced upon him as a 
necessity it was thrust at him from various quarters; it occupied 
his mind and thoughts day and night. He repeated he had about 
come to a conclusion, driven home to him by the conference of 
the preceding day, but wished to know our views and hear any 
suggestions either of us might make. 

This was a new departure for the President. Until that Sun 
day, in all our previous intercourse, whenever the subject of 
emancipation or interference with slavery in the States, in any 
way or form, had been alluded to, he had been prompt and 
emphatic in disclaiming and disavowing any authority or right 
on the part of the General Government to move in it; he had been 
reluctant to treat the rising at the South otherwise than as an 
insurrection. In one or two conversations that followed within 
a few days, it was said that if the Southern States and people were 
within the pale of the Constitution, and had not absolved their 
connection with and obligations to it, and disavowed and resisted 
the laws and constituted authorities, they were entitled to all 
its guarantees. But it was known to the whole world that there 
was a war of more than a year s duration, which was being prose 
cuted with constantly increasing bitterness against the Govern 
ment; that there was a denial and defiance of national authority 
by the States in rebellion, which had placed them in the attitude 
of belligerentspublic enemies; that they must be treated as such, 
and abide the consequences of their own acts. If they possessed 
full, absolute, inherent original sovereignty, or could resume it, 
as they asserted they had done by their acts of secession, and be 
come aliens, foreigners to the United States, it was not for them 
to claim protection and aid from the Government which they 
repudiated, for the continued enslavement of an unfortunate 
race. They and their sympathizing friends and abettors could not 
insist that what was a chief element of strength to them and of 
injury to the Union should be shielded and secured to them by 
the Constitution and the government which they, as enemies, 
sought to destroy. So long as the slave States, or any of them, 

The History of Emancipation 241 

acknowledged the supremacy of die Constitution and adherence 
to the Government and the Union, to them was the Inviolability 
of slavery secured and observed. The President and every member 
of the Cabinet considered it and treated it as a local domestic 
subject, the creation of municipal, not national law, appertaining 
to the States exclusively and respectively, and that they had never 
parted with, but reserved their authority over It. 

The reverses before Richmond, and the formidable power and 
dimensions of the insurrection, which extended through all the 
slave States, and had combined most of them in a confederacy or 
league to disolve the Union, impelled the Administration to 
adopt extraordinary measures, and to exercise all Its power to 
preserve the national existence. The slaves, if not to any con 
siderable extent armed and disciplined as soldiers, were In the 
service of those who were soldiers, engaged as field laborers, 
producers, and domestic servants, and thousands of them were In 
camp attending upon the armies in the field, employed as 
waiters, and In the construction of fortifications and intrench- 
ments for those whose avowed object was the overthrow of the 
government and the dissolution of the Union. 

Early in August it has been said on Saturday, and if so it 
was, I think, the 2d of that month the President called a special 
meeting of the Cabinet. The meeting was In the library of the 
executive mansion, and not in the council chamber, where the 
regular sessions were usually convened. All were present except 
Mr. Blair, who had gone to his country residence In Montgomery 
county. If I am not mistaken, Mr. Chase was also from some 
cause absent from this first meeting. The President stated that the 
object for which he had called us together was to submit the 
rough draft of a proclamation to emancipate, altar a certain day, 
all slaves in the States which should then be in rebellion. There 
were, he remarked, differences in the Cabinet on -the slavery 
question, and on emancipation, but he Invited free discussion on 
the Important step he was about to take; and to relieve each one 
from embarrassment, he wished it understood that the question 
was settled in his own mind; that he had decreed emancipation 
in a certain contingency, and the responsibility of the measure 
was his; but he desired to hear the views of his associates and 

242 Civil War and ReconstaioticMi 

receive any suggestions, pro or con, which they might make. He 
had, he said, dwelt much and long on the subject, and formed 
his own conclusions, and had mentioned the matter in confi 
dence to one or two of the members. Little was said by any one 
but the President. Mr. Bates expressed his very decided approval, 
but wished deportation to be coupled with emancipation. He 
was, it was well known, opposed to slavery. Though born in a 
slave State, and always residing in a slave State and among 
slaves, he nevertheless wished them free, and that the colored 
race should leave the country. It was impossible, he said, for the 
two races to assimilate but by amalgamation, and they could not 
amalgamate without degradation and demoralization to the 
white race. The whites might be brought down, but the negroes 
could not be lifted to a much higher plane than they now oc 
cupied. He had been a close observer of the influence of slavery 
on the enterprise and welfare of the country through a long 
life, had deplored its effects, and himself had given freedom to 
his own slaves, and wished them and their fellows in Africa, or 
elsewhere than in the United States. He was fully convinced that 
the two races could not live and thrive in social proximity. The 
result of any attempt to place them on terms of equality would 
be strife, contention, and a vicious population, as in Mexico. 
The whites might be debased, but the blacks could not be ele 
vated, even by the disgusting process of mixed breeds, which 
was repugnant to nature and to our moral and better instincts. 
He therefore wished a system of deportation to accompany any 
scheme of emancipation. These were also the President s views. 
Mr. Seward, without expressing an opinion on the merits of 
the question, thought it would be well to postpone the whole 
subject to a more auspicious period. If the proclamation were 
issued now, it would be received and considered as a despairing 
cry a shriek from and for the Administration, rather than for 
freedom. The President instantly felt and appreciated the force 
and propriety of the suggestion. We had experienced serious dis 
asters. Important results were in the immediate future; high 
hopes were entertained from army operations under Halleck and 
Pope, who had just taken the direction of military affairs. The 
President at once closed his portfolio and suspended his proda- 

The History of Emancipation 243 

mation and all further proceedings on the subject of emancipa 
tion, I do not recollect that it was again alluded to in Cabinet 
until after the battle of Antietam, which took place on the 17th 
of September six weeks later. 

The disasters of the army under McClellan were not re 
trieved by Pope and Halleck. Dark and heavy clouds hung over 
the country, and the civil service was depressed in consequence 
of military reverses. But the spirit of the people against what they 
deemed the inciting cause of hostilities became more aggravated 
and intense by the military failures, and the demand for freedom 
to the slaves, which had been increasing for months, came thick 
and fast and from various quarters upon the Administration. 
Among others who were impatient under what they considered 
the inexcusable neglect and inaction of the President was Horace 
Greeley, the editor of one of the widest circulated and most in 
fluential journals in the country. Uninformed, like others, of 
the purposes and contemplated movements of the Government, 
but filled with patriotic fervor, such as a year previous had led 
him and men like him, possessed of more zeal than military 
knowledge, to insist that the army should, while not duly pre 
pared, move on to Richmond, he now, on the 19th of August, 
addressed a letter, earnest but dictatorial in tone, to the Presi 
dent, admonishing him of public sentiment and of his duty. 
This letter was not sent through the mail as a friendly epistle, 
with the friendly suggestions and advice of a friend, but for some 
reason, good or bad, was published in the "New York Tribune/ 
The effect of this publication on the ardent and unreasoning 
fanatical mind was to increase discontent towards the Adminis 
tration. This, however, was cooled and counteracted almost im 
mediately by the calm, deliberate, and statesmanlike answer of 
the President. This reply, on the 22d of August, discloses the 
real views and principles by which the President was governed 
better than any other. He said: __ 

The sooner the national authority can be restored, the 
nearer the Union will be the Union as it was. 

If there be those who would not save the Union unless 
they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with 

244 Civil War and Reconstruction 

If there be those who would not save the Union unless 
they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree 
with them. 

My paramount object is to save the Union, and not 
either to save or to destroy slavery. 

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, 
I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, 
I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and 
leaving others alone, I would also do that. 

What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do 
because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I 
forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help 
to save the Union. 

I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing 
hurts the cause, and shall do more whenever I believe doing 
more will help the cause. 

In these brief paragraphs will be found the controlling mo 
tives, principles, and purpose of the President the true key to 
his official actions on this subject. He was Chief Magistrate, to 
maintain, preserve, and so far as in him lay to perpetuate the 
Union. Slavery or emancipation was a secondary consideration, 
a mere incident to that great object. He did not and could not 
inform the distinguished journalist who took upon himself to be 
his mentor that there was in his portfolio a proclamation of 
emancipation, prepared in obedience to the national necessities, 
but which, for public considerations was temporarily suspended. 
Yet such was the fact. His sympathies were as great and his phi 
lanthropy as broad and deep as those of any one who appealed 
to him; but his legal and constitutional obligations were para 
mount. He proved himself a statesman. Many blamed him for 
inaction in the cause of freedom then, as subserviency to the 
slave oligarchy. Many have extolled his decree of emancipation 
since, as the kindly prompting of a generous nature. It was 
neither, but a sense of duty his honest conviction, acting un 
der the highest responsibility that was ever devolved on a Chief 
Magistrate which controlled him when the impulsive were rest 
less and the benevolent impatient. The proclamations of eman 
cipation were not the offspring of mere humanitarianism, as 

The History of Emancipation 245 

many of the superficial and thoughtless suppose, but of the 
highest and noblest statesmanship. Fidelity to the Union and 
to the Constitution, both of which were imperilled In that dark 
and gloomy period of the great struggle, influenced and con 
trolled him. He was President to preserve the Union, not to 
destroy it, or to permit it to be destroyed; to observe the com 
promises and ordinances of the fundamental law, not to over 
throw or discard them. It was no part of his duty or trust, what 
ever might be his individual sympathy, to interfere with or 
molest the institutions and laws of the States, or to trespass on 
their reserved rights, so long as they observed and respected 
Federal rights; but he could omit no legitimate duty to remove 
any obstacle which endangered the national existence. Certain 
States made war upon the Government in behalf of slavery, and 
were availing themselves of the slave element to dissolve the 
Union. He had Federal rights to maintain while observing the 
rights of the States. 

Individuals and public meetings appealed to him in behalf 
of emancipation more earnestly as our military disasters increased. 
The Rev. Dr. Patton of Chicago, at the head of a deputation 
from the clergymen of northern Illinois, called on me on the 
13th of September and requested an introduction of himself 
and his associates to the President, in order to urge upon him 
more active and decided measures in the cause of freedom. The 
President expressed his willingness to receive them, and after 
listening to their memorial he stated some of the difficulties which 
embarrassed him, but assured them he had not decided against 
proclaiming liberty to the slaves. He held the subject under 
advisement; it was on his mind by day and by night, more than 
any other. Whatever should appear to be God s will he would do. 

A special Cabinet meeting was convened on Saturday, the 
20th of September, when the preliminary proclamation for eman 
cipation was again submitted. In bringing it forward on this 
occasion the President remarked that, though suspended for 
several weeks, the subject had never been lost sight of. He had 
in the mean time made a few verbal alterations, without chang 
ing the character of the paper, which he thought and which 
undoubtedly were improvements. All listened with profound 

246 Civil War and Reconstruction 

attention to the reading, and it was, I believe, assented to by 
every member. Mr. Bates repeated the opinions he had pre 
viously expressed in regard to the deportation of the colored 
race. Mr. Seward proposed two slight verbal alterations, which 
were adopted. A general discussion then took place, covering 
the whole groundthe constitutional question the war power 
the expediency and the effect of the movement. After the matter 
had been very fully debated, Mr. Stanton made a very emphatic 
speech sustaining the measure, and in closing said the act was 
so important, and involved consequences so vast, that he hoped 
each member would give distinctly and unequivocally his own 
individual opinion, whatever that opinion might be. Two gentle 
men he thought had not been sufficiently explicit, although they 
had discussed the question freely, and it was understood that 
they concurred in the measure. He referred, he said to the Secre 
tary of the Treasury and (hesitating a moment) the Secretary 
of the Navy. It was understood, I believe, by all present, that he 
had allusion to another member, with whom he was not in full 

Mr. Chase admitted that the subject had come upon him un 
expectedly and with some surprise. It was a step further than 
he had ever proposed, but he was prepared to accept and support 
it. He was glad the President had made this advance, which he 
should sustain from his heart, and he proceeded to make an 
able impromptu argument in its favor. 

I stated that the President did not misunderstand my position, 
nor any other member; that I assented most unequivocally to the 
measure as a war necessity, and had acted upon it. 

Mr. Blair took occasion to say that he was an emancipationist 
from principle; that he had for years, here and in Missouri, 
where he formerly resided, openly advocated it, but he had 
doubts of the expediency of this executive action at this par 
ticular juncture. We ought not, he thought, to put in jeopardy 
the patriotic element in the border States, already severely tried. 
This proclamation would, as soon as it reached them, be likely 
to carry over those States to the secessionists. There were also 
party men in the free States who were striving to revive old 
party lines and distinctions, into whose hand we were putting a 

The History of Emancipation 247 

club to be used against us. The measure he approved, but the 
time was inopportune. He should wish, therefore, to file his 

This, the President said, Mr. Blair could do. He had, however, 
considered the danger to be apprehended from the first objection 
mentioned, which was undoubtedly serious, but the difficulty 
was as great not to act as to act. There were two sides to that 
question. For months he had labored to get those States to move 
in this matter, convinced in his own mind that it was their true 
interest to do so, but his labors were vain. We must make the 
forward movement. They would acquiesce, if not immediately, 
soon; for they must be satisfied that slavery had received its 
death-blow from slave-ownersit could not survive the rebellion. 
As regarded the other objection, it had not much weight with 
him; their clubs would be used against us, take what course we 

The question of power in the Government to act authority 
to set free the slaves in the rebel States was not, in this war 
for the Union, controverted or doubted by any member of the 
Administration. It was suggested by some that preliminary legis 
lation would be advisable before a decisive step was taken by 
the Executive; but it was answered, Congress was clothed with no 
authority on the subject, nor was the Executive, save under the 
war power military necessity martial law where there could be 
no legislation. Congress had, however, taken some action, indi 
cating the sentiments of that body and the country. 

Before reading the proclamation the President again said he 
felt the great responsibility of the step he was taking, both to 
himself and the country. It had oppressed him, and not until 
all other measures and expedients failed had he come to the 
conclusion that this element, which was arbitrarily used against 
us, must be brought into the Union cause. Having reached that 
conclusion, his decision was fixed and unalterable. The act 
and all its responsibilities were his alone. He had prepared the 
paper which he was again about to read without advice or as 
sistancehad pondered over it for weeks, and been more con 
firmed in the rectitude of the measure as time passed on. There 
had been moments when he felt awed and overwhelmed by the 

248 Civil War and Reconstruction 

gravity and magnitude of the subject and of what might fol 
low, but his way was now clear he knew he was right. Among 
other things, he said in a somewhat subdued tone, he had looked 
to a Higher Power for aid and direction. He had made a vow 
that if God gave us the victory in the impending battle he would 
receive it as an indication of the Divine Will that it was his duty 
to go forward in the work of emancipation. In a manner half 
apologetic, he said this might seem strange, but there were 
occasions when, uncertain how to proceedwhen it was not 
clear to his mind what he should do he had in this way sub 
mitted the disposal of the subject to a Higher Power, and abided 
by what seemed the Supreme Will. Events at Sharpsburg had 
confirmed and strengthened his original purpose in regard to 
emancipation and he had no hesitation in issuing this preliminary 
order; the States interested would decide for themselves as to 
its consummation. 

This was not the only occasion when he manifested the 
peculiar faith or trait here exhibited. It was doubtless to be at 
tributed in a great measure to the absence of early religious 
culture a want of educational advantages in his youthful, fron 
tier life. In the wilderness of Indiana fifty years ago there were 
few churches, and only an occasional wandering preacher fur 
nished the sparse population with rude religious instruction. Al 
though his early opportunities for religious improvement had 
been few, there was deep-seated within him a feeling of de 
pendence and trust in that Supreme Intelligence which rules 
and governs all. 

Some general conversation followed the reading of the docu 
ment, when the President handed it to the Secretary of State, 
with directions to publish it forthwith. 

There were, I think, apprehensions and anxiety on the minds 
of every member of the Administration as to the effect which 
the proclamation would have on the public mind. I make an 
extract from a memorandum of my own on the 22d of September, 
which expresses my views and feelings at the time: "The subject, 
aside from the ethical view of the question, has, from its magni 
tude and its uncertain results, a solemnity and weight that op 
presses me. It is a step in the progress of this war a beginning, the 

The History of Emancipation 249 

results of which will extend into the distant future, A favorable 
termination of the war seems more remote with every movement. 
Unless the rebels hasten to avail themselves of the alternative now 
presented and I see little probability of it, the end on scarcely 
be other than emancipation of the slaves, and subjugation of their 
masters, carrying with it a revolution of the social, civil, and 
industrial habits and condition of society in all the slave States, 
There is in the free States a prevailing opinion that this measure 
will secure a speedy peace. I cannot say that I so view it There 
will be the energy of desperation on the part of the slave-owners, 
aided by those who sympathize with them, which with the im 
pending pecuniary sacrifices will intensify the struggle. While, 
however, dark clouds are before us and around us, I do not see 
in the twilight of the future how the measure taken could be 
avoided, and I know that it is desirable it should be. It is a 
despotic act in the cause of the Union, and I may add of 

The immediate effect of this extraordinary and radical meas 
urealmost revolutionary in its character was less turbulent 
and exciting, North and South, than had been generally appre 
hended. It called out no excessive jubilation on one part, nor 
angry violence on the other. For a time it failed to strengthen 
the Administration in any section. It imparted no vigor but 
rather depression and weakness to the North nor strength, to 
the secession cause in the South, where there began to be a con 
scious feeling of the fatal step they had taken. Mr. Blair s fore 
bodings as to the effect on the approaching autumn elections 
were realized. Many who had resisted secession were not pre 
pared to sustain the Executive in a measure which was without 
direct warrant from the Constitution, though adopted as a ne 
cessity to defend and preserve it and the Union from rebellious 
assailants, whose avowed purpose was to destroy both. The eman 
cipationists, who had urged decisive action upon the President, 
relaxed for a time their energies after action was taken, and 
the fall elections were adverse to the Administration. 

In the rebel or Confederate Government there was much 
empty gasconade, and many loud threats and denunciations for 
this executive act; but they ended in mere declamation. It had 

250 Civil War and Reconstruction 

become a conviction with the intelligent minds o the South 
that the rebellion had put slavery in jeopardy, and that if the 
rebellion was suppressed slavery would be extinguished. The 
proclamation brought conviction of this fact to their minds, 
and alarmed and weakened them. 

Following the preliminary proclamation, and as a part of 
the plan, was the question of deporting and colonizing the col 
ored race. This was a part of the President s scheme, and had 
occupied his mind some time before the project for emancipa 
tion was adopted, although the historians, biographers, and com 
mentators have made slight, if any, allusion to it. The Presi 
dent, however, and a portion of his Cabinet considered them 
inseparable, and that deportation should accompany and be a 
part of the emancipation movement. 

A speculating operation for colonizing and taking possession 
of a tract of country in Central America, known as the Chiriqui 
grant or purchase in Costa Rica, had been in progress under 
the Buchanan Administration, and greatly interested President 
Lincoln, who thought it might be used for colonization pur 
poses. He had in the spring of 1861 expressed a favorable opin 
ion of the scheme, and referred it to me for investigation, and 
if I approved it, to bring forward the necessary measures to car 
ry it into effect. Without here going into details of that investiga 
tion, I became satisfied that it was a speculating, if not a swin 
dling scheme, and so reported, and declined to further consider 
the subject. It was then referred to the Secretary of the Inte 
rior, a friend of the scheme and the parties. He made a very 
skilful and adroit report in its favor, stating that there was an 
abundance of the best quality of coal in the Chiriqui purchase, 
which a colony of emancipated negroes could mine, and recom 
mending that such a colony should be established, and that the 
Navy Department should procure its supplies of fuel from that 
source. The President gave the project favorable consideration, 
and in compliance with it proposed to issue an order directing 
the Navy Department to procure its coal from Chiriqui, and to 
make an advance to the company of $50,000 to aid in its col 
onizing and mining purposes. To this I wholly and entirely ob 
jected, and when the President became aware that the law re- 

The History of Emancipation 251 

quired coal to be purchased by annual contract awarded to the 
lowest bidder, and that we had such a contract only partly exe 
cuted, the scheme was abandoned. But the plan of deportation 
and colonization by the Government was not given up. It was 
pressed as an incidental and necessary part of the emancipation 
proceeding. The President brought the subject of deporting the 
freed slaves before the Cabinet on Tuesday, the 23d of Septem 
ber, the day succeeding his preliminary emancipation proclama 
tion, when it was discussed at some length, and again on Friday* 
the 26th. There was a diversity of opinion in the Cabinet on 
this measure, but ultimately a majority opposed it. The Presi 
dent, in reluctantly giving up the Chiriqui project, declared 
himself opposed to the proposition of the Attorney-General, Mr. 
Bates, who was also opposed the Chiriqui scheme, but who read 
an elaborate paper in favor of compulsory emigration or de 

Deportation and colonization eventually died out, after a 
feeble and abortive effort to plant a cargo of negroes at Cow 
Island; but emancipation became a success. 

On Tuesday, the 30th of December, the President read to the 
Cabinet the draft of his proclamation emancipating the slaves 
in the rebellious States, pursuant to his preliminary proclama 
tion of the 22d of September, and, as usual with his public 
papers, invited criticism. A general debate took place that day, 
but without much definite point, or any new suggestion in the 
discussion. The President directed that copies of the paper should 
be made and sent to each member of the Cabinet, and ordered 
a special meeting on the next day, Wednesday, the 3 1st of De 
cember, to hear remarks and receive suggestions. At that meet 
ing two or three verbal alterations were suggested. All but one 
of them were, I think, proposed by Mr. Seward. Four members, 
viz., Messrs. Seward, Chase, Blair, and myself, without inter 
changing opinions, advised that any and all exceptions of 
fractional parts of any State should be omitted. It was stated 
that, slavery being the creature of local law, no State where it 
existed could discriminate in its enactments so as to authorize 
its continuance in some counties, yet prohibit it in others. There 
could be no such unequal, sectional legislation in any State. But 

252 Civil War and Reconstractkrn 

the President, while he felt the force of the suggestion, declined 
to make the omission, conceiving himself committed in his pre 
liminary proclamation. Mr. Chase proposed the felicitous closing 
paragraph, declaring the sincerity of the Executive in this act, 
believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution, 
upon military necessity, and invoking for it the considerate 
judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God. 

All the suggestions, written and oral, which had been made, 
were received by the President, who said he would consider 
them and complete the document. This was done, and the paper 
signed and published on the following day, the 1st of January, 

The speculations as to the origin of the proclamation and 
the influence and causes which prompted the emancipation move 
ment have been many, and some of them merely imaginary or 
conjectural. It has been said it was done to prevent a recog 
nition of the Confederacy by European governments; that it 
was extorted by the ultra abolitionists, who threatened the Ad 
ministration; that the President was overborne and subdued by 
appeals which the clergy and others addressed to him. Some 
or all of these may have tended to confirm him, but the origin was 
with neither. The war and war necessities had modified his 
views and overcome his primary, undisguised reluctance to 
adopt a measure for which he had no express constitutional or 
legal authority nothing but absolute military necessity. The 
calamities of the war, which were prolonged, and the condi 
tion of national affairs, convinced him that to confer freedom 
on the four millions who were in bondage would be the most 
fatal blow he could strike against the rebellion, and the most 
effectual if not the only measure that would give peace and 
prosperity to the Union. 

The period when he came to this conclusion, and decided to 
give by an executive act freedom to the slaves, has been a con 
troverted question on the part of his biographers, historians, and 
commentators, but no specific day or influence can be named. 
Impressed with the importance, solemnity, and responsibility 
of the measure, he was slow and deliberate in adopting it. For 
more than a year after his inauguration, he resisted the appeals 

The History of Emancipation 

and the threats of his ultra supporters, who urged him to use the 
war necessity and strike the fetters from the slave, in the con 
fident belief that peace would be restored and the compromise 
of the Constitution maintained unimpaired, without resorting 
to this necessity. But gradually the conviction dawned upon him 
that the cause which led to the rebellion must be removed before 
harmony could prevail. For a time he indulged the hope that 
the border States would view the subject as he viewed it, and 
come to the same conclusion. If so, they in the wreck and down 
fall of the institution would, he thought, gladly avail themselves 
of the proposition of gradual and compensated emancipation, 
Disappointed after repeated earnest appeals addressed to the 
patriotism and the pecuniary interest of the States, and failing 
to persuade them to take the initiative by voluntarily relinquish 
ing slavery, he was compelled to take the other and extreme 
alternative of addressing himself to the rebels themselves, and 
warning them that if they persisted in rebellion after a given 
date, he should adopt the policy of emancipation. 

His interview with the representatives on the 12th of July, 
and his ineffectual appeal to them to favor a scheme for volun 
tary, prospective, and compensated emancipation, forced upon 
him the conviction that all arguments and appeals in that 
quarter were vain and useless, and that a different, stronger, 
and more ultra policy was necessary. They, and the constituency 
on whom they relied, were most of them Union men, but they 
clung to the system of productive slave labor to which they had 
been accustomed. Their secession opponents at the South had 
from the beginning taunted them with the assertion that if 
they adhered to the Union cause the abolitionists would set free 
their slaves and subvert their industrial and social system. This 
they had repelled, and when appealed to by the President felt 
that they could not sustain themselves at home if they gave in 
to the measure. They therefore declined the propositions he made. 

It was after that last fruitless and hopeless interview with the 
border State representatives, on Saturday the 12th of July, that 
he became convinced the Government would be compelled to 
adopt the principle of emancipating the slaves in the rebel 
States in order to close the conflict. In all probability the al- 

254 Civil War and Reconstruction 

ternative of this harsher and more responsible measure toward 
the extreme South, in case the border States could not be per 
suaded to come into his project of voluntary emancipation, had 
been evolved in his mind before that last meeting. He had urged 
the project from the 6th of the preceding March, without re 
ceiving much encouragement, and the opposition and repug 
nance manifested at the meeting on the 12th of July satisfied 
him that a different and more decided policy, and in another 
direction, must be pursued. In this mood, and with this con 
viction, after his unsatisfactory interview on Saturday, he felt 
that he must abandon that project, and on the following day, 
Sunday, the 13th, introduced to Mr. Seward and myself the topic 
that engrossed his mind, with a request that we should give the 
subject of emancipating the slaves in the Southern States, after a 
given date, early and earnest consideration. He had not at that 
time fully determined on issuing a proclamationhad not en 
tirely given up the hope that the border States might yet come 
into his scheme, which was obviously so much to their advantage; 
but it had become a remote and glimmering hope, which their 
written reply on the 14th of July extinguished. Not until after 
that date did he write his preliminary proclamation, which was, 
I believe, first read to the Cabinet on Saturday, the 2d of August. 
The statement made and reiterated with great confidence, 
that this proclamation was written on a steamboat when return 
ing from a visit to General McClellan, on the 8th of July, is a 
mistake. He did, there is little doubt, at that time, when re 
turning on the steamer, write out the speech which he read to 
the representatives of the border States when he reached Wash 
ington. It would be unjust to him as a man, and as Chief 
Magistrate, to impute to him a disingenuous and a double part 
in his proposition to the representatives of the border States; 
to suppose that while he was inviting them to adopt the policy 
of voluntary emancipation by their respective States, he con 
cealed from them the fact that he was pursuing a different policy, 
and had indeed, as represented, written a proclamation fox 
general emancipation by the Federal Government. Nor were the 
two policies compatible. The truth is, he had doubted Federal 
authority, and therefore labored earnestly and with fidelity to 

The History of Emancipation 255 

induce the border States to initiate the milder and practical 
policy of voluntary emancipation by State action, which they 
clearly had the right to do. To encourage them in this move 
ment, he promised the influence of the Executive to give them 
pecuniary aid. Could they have been persuaded to act, the Presi 
dent would have been relieved of embarrassment, for it would 
have been the first step in a movement which would have eventu 
ated in general emancipation by the undoubted, rightful legiti 
mate State authorities. Not until the last hope of voluntary 
emancipation was extinguished in the interview on the 12th of 
July, did he relinquish his early and favorite policy, and take up 
the controverted and contested one of Federal action, warranted 
alone by military necessity. 

His generous and benevolent nature was gladdened at the 
close by the result of his proclamation, which gave freedom to 
four millions in bondage, and contributed in no small degree to 
the suppression of the rebellion and to the preservation and 
perpetuation of the Union. The fruition of this measure, adopted 
under imperious necessity, and with responsibilities and a solem 
nity that few can appreciate, cheered the last days of the extra 
ordinary man, to whom belongs the credit, as he assumed 
the consequences of the: act, and whose untimely death the 
nation will ever have cause to deplore. Love for his country, its 
Constitution, and the Union which he had been chosen to guard, 
was the controlling influence that governed him in one of the 
most important and responsible measures ever decreed by chief 
magistrate or ruler. 


The Capture and Release of Mason and Slide!! 

When Captain Charles Wilkes of the U.S.S. San Jacinto 
stopped the British mail steamer Trent to seize James 
M. Mason and John Slidell, Confederate Commissioners 
to Great Britain and France, an international incident 
resulted* The embarrassments and consequences to the 
Navy Department are here developed in detail by the 
Secretary of the Navy. 

WAR of the rebellion dragged heavily along through 
the summer and autumn of 1861, its reverses but slightly relieved 
by some successes of McClellan in West Virginia and Stringham 
at Hatteras. Late in October a formidable squadron which the 
Navy Department had collected at Hampton Roads, with ac 
companying army transports, left the capes of Virginia for a 
destination unknown to more than half a dozen persons aside 
from the expedition. About the middle of November the country 
was made glad by the announcement that the squadron under 
Dupont had captured Port Royal, and that our troops were in 
possession of the most favored locality of the South Carolina 
insurgents. Almost simultaneously with this intelligence the 
country was electrified with rumors, which were speedily con 
firmed, that James M. Mason and John Slidell, two rebel emis 
saries, with their secretaries, were captured by Captain Wilkes, 
in command of the San Jacinto, and taken from on board the 
English packet steamer Trent, a neutral vessel, which was con 
veying these messengers on a hostile mission abroad. The action 

The Galaxy, XV (May, 1873). 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 257 

at Port Royal took place on the 7th of November; the rebel 
emissaries were arrested on the following day, the 8th. 

Great as were the rejoicings over the achievement of Dupont, 
the most important victory which had then been obtained, they 
were for a time eclipsed by the startling news that the two rebel 
leaders, who had recently abandoned their seats in the Senate, 
and been selected by the Confederate organization to represent 
it abroad, and enlist foreign governments in its behalf, had been 
intercepted and were prisoners. 

Several of the European powers, and especially England, 
under the mischievous intrigues of Palmerston and Russell, and 
France under the malign influence of Louis Napoleon, had 
hastened to recognize the rebels as belligerents, thereby placing 
them, though destitute of any acknowledged nationality, on 
terms of equality with the government of the United States- 
a government with which they had treaties and were professedly 
on terms of amity and friendship. The effect of this recognition 
was-and unquestionably was so intended-to deprive the gov 
ernment and people of the United States, with their navy, com 
merce, and large shipping interests, wWle the rebels had none, 
of the hospitalities and privileges which exist among nations at 
peace, and which had been extended to us by all governments 
prior to the rebellion. The assumed neutrality of those countries 
was therefore an unfriendly act, adverse to the United States, 
whose ships were thereby restricted in their supplies, and almost 
excluded from foreign ports. It was favorable to the rebels, who 
had neither navy, ships, nor commerce to be excluded or injured 
by any inhibition that might be imposed. It elevated and gave 
political power and importance to the conspirators, who, by the 
standard of those governments, were made in all respects the 
equals of the United States, although they had no existence or 
standing in the family of nations, and were neither by law nor 
fact entitled to nationality or belligerent rights. Hostility to free 
government, and unfriendliness, not to say enmity, to the Ameri 
can Union, actuated the men in authority in both England and 
France. Their sympathies, particularly those of the aristocracy 
of Great Britain, were with the rebels, not from any especial 

258 Civil War and Reconstruction 

regard, love, or respect for them or their cause, but from dislike 
of free institutions and the rising power of the great republic. 

Mason and Slidell had managed to elude the blockade in 
October in the Theodora, a blockade-runner, and were landed 
at Cardenas in Cuba. Thence as ambassadors or commissioners 
they proceeded with their retinue to Havana, where they were 
officially and ostentatiously received and introduced by the 
English Consul to the Cuban authorities. The cautious and 
dignified Spanish grandee who was then Captain General de 
clined to recognize the official pretensions of the emissaries but 
received them as strangers of distinction. Americans were not 
unmindful of the extraordinary and marked courtesy and at 
tention of the British officials to these messengers, known to be 
on a mission hostile to our government. When, therefore, intel 
ligence of the capture of these conspirators, who were so recently 
Senators, was received, intense excitement and general joy were t 
manifested. Men of all parties and grades united in a general 
hallelujah over the achievement. Without pausing to inquire 
under what circumstances the arrest had been made, and whether 
the Government was in any degree compromitted, the people 
everywhere approved it, and recognized and acknowledged Cap 
tain Wilkes as a bold, daring, and energetic officer, more ef 
ficient and vastly more deserving of applause than the more slow 
and deliberate men who were administering the government. 
The fact that these traitorous and avowed enemies of the re 
public, on a hostile errand to procure foreign aid for the 
destruction of our national unity, were taken on an English 
steamer, under an English flag, and from the embrace of English 
officials, gave additional gratification and zest to the daring act 
of the naval captain. From the Atlantic to the Pacific meetings 
were called to express the feelings of the people and their thanks 
to the gallant officer who had rendered this great service. Captain 
Wilkes, on his arrival at Boston, and as he passed through the 
country to Washington, was greeted with welcome and hailed 
as a chieftain worthy of command. A banquet was given him 
in the commercial metropolis of New England, which was at 
tended by many distinguished personages, among them the Chief 
Magistrate of Massachusetts, the patriotic Governor Andrew, and 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 25 

Chief Justice Bigelow, each of whom made speeches in 
of the hero. Publicists lite Mr. Everett endorsed and Justified 
the act. The House of Representatives at Washington* on the 
first day of its session, the 2d of December, by unanimous con 
sent received, and without dissenting voice passed a resolution 
declaring "that the thanks of Congress are due, and are hereby 
tendered, to Captain Wilkes of the United States Navy, for his 
brave, adroit, and patriotic conduct in the arrest and detention 
of the traitors, James M. Mason and John Slidell" On the same 
day Schuyler Colfax, then a prominent member, and subse 
quently Speaker of the House and Vice-President of the United 
States, introduced a resolution which, after a recitation in the 
preamble that Colonel Michael Corcoran, taken prisoner on 
the battle field, had, after suffering other indignities, been con 
fined by the rebel authorities in the cell of a convicted felon, 
made known as the wish of the House that "the President of the 
United States be requested to similarly confine James M. Mason, 
late of Virginia, now in custody in Fort Warren, until Colonel 
Corcoran shall be treated as all the prisoners taken by the 
United States on the battle field have been treated/* A similar 
resolution in regard to Mr. Slidell was introduced by Mr. Odell, 
a Democratic representative from the State of New York. These 
resolutions of the representative body of the nation exhibit the 
feeling and temper of the people, and were supposed to be in 
contrast with, if not a rebuke to, the qualified congratulatory 
letter which I had written on the 30th of November, three days 
before. To these resolutions, and all the honors awarded to 
Captain Wilkes, the people responded, and were prompt to com 
pare his energetic and effective action with the tardy and un 
satisfactory movements of others at the beginning of the war. 

Captain Charles Wilkes, who acquired this sudden and high 
renown, was an intelligent and daring officer, advanced in life, 
many of whose active years had been passed on shore duty, and 
in the preparation and publication, under the authority of Con 
gress and at the expense of the government, of an elaborate work 
of several volumes, narrating the discoveries, geographical and 
scientific, made by an exploring expedition under his command, 
which was projected and sent out during the administration of 

260 Civil War and Reconstruction 

President Van Buren In 1838. He was detached from these literary 
and scientific labors in the spring of 1861 and ordered to pro 
ceed to the coast of Africa to relieve a Southern naval officer 
on that station of the command of the San Jacinto, and return 
with her to the United States. Our naval force was at that time 
small, on a very limited peace establishment, and the vessels, 
in some instances commanded by officers from the insurrectionary 
region, were most of them widely dispersed. Congress had ad 
journed without taking measures to increase or to authorize an 
increase of the navy, notwithstanding impending difficulties. In 
the strife of factions the welfare of the country and the strength 
and stability of the government were greatly neglected. Only three 
small steamers were in commission, and but two hundred and 
eighty seamen in all the Atlantic ports. Almost all the authorized 
force of vessels and men were absent in the West Indies or 
Gulf of Mexico, or on foreign stations. What was called the 
home squadron consisted of eight vessels in commission, most 
of them in the West Indies or the Gulf of Mexico, and were 
all of them, with the intervening insurrectionary States, nearly 
as unavailable and remote as the ships on the coast of Europe. 
Among both naval and military officers of the South there was 
great demoralization, affecting the discipline of the service and 
impairing public confidence. Many of them, under the specious 
but delusive and mistaken idea that obedience to the local State 
governments, even in their illegal enactments against national 
unity and authority, was paramount to all obligations to the 
Federal Government, had thrown up their commissions and 
abandoned the service. The new Administration, unaware of the 
extent of the conspiracy, and wholly unprepared by needful 
legislation, or previous executive action for the emergency, was 
compelled to meet the crisis, and on its own responsibility take 
instant measures for the preservation of the national existence. 
Called, as most of them were, from private life to their new 
positions, and under confident assurances from leading minds on 
both sides that an adjustment of difficulties would take place 
without a conflict, the men administering the government de 
layed measures of a belligerent character until the last moment. 
When it became evident that the extreme secessionists had ob- 

The Capture and Release of Mason and 261 

tained control of the rebel State organizations, 
determined on national dismemberment, and that 
could scarcely be avoided, precautionary measures were 
involving among other things an entire change of aava! 
ment. Before a blockade had been declared or Sumter 
orders were sent, on the 8th of April, to Commodore CL H* Bell, 
who was in command in the Mediterranean, to break up the 
European squadron and return with his command to the United 
States. A difficulty existed in regard to the withdrawal of the 
African squadron, in consequence of treaty stipulations with 
Great Britain, by which we were obliged to maintain a specified 
force on the coast of Africa for the suppression of the slave trade. 
But higher duties in the great impending crisis overrode in this 
instance treaty stipulations, and the demand for ships and men 
on our own coast was so imperative that the Navy Department 
took the responsibility after the blockade was declared of with 
drawing the African squadron, with the exception of a single 
sloop of war. Orders to this effect were sent to Commodore 
Inman, in command, on the 9th of May, with directions to return 
as soon as practicable with all his force except the Saratoga. One 
of the vessels of this squadron was the San Jacinto, commanded 
by Captain T. A. Dornin. This officer was a citizen of Maryland, 
and it was his misfortune that a portion of his family were early 
and active secessionists. What were his own opinions and feel 
ings on the absorbing questions that were disturbing and dividing 
the country, and what would be his course, it was impossible to 
ascertain, nor could inquiry well be made. The subject was one 
of extreme delicacy. To question the fidelity of a faithful officer, 
and thus cast suspicion on his integrity, would be harsh and 
severe; to continue him in command without certain assurance 
of his fidelity, when so many from his section were deserting, 
would not be good government, and in case of disaster would 
have been considered censurable and doubtless condemned as 
bad administration. There had been infidelity and the worst 
of treachery on the part of officers of the Treasury in the 
revenue marine, who not only deserted, but betrayed their trust, 
and perfidiously turned over their vessels and commands to the 
rebels. Great power is necessarily vested in a naval commander 

262 Civil War and Reconstruction 

over Ms subordinates. His orders are absolute. To resist or 
oppose them is mutiny. Such, an officer might, if disposed, ran 
his vessel into a rebel port and deliver her into the possession 
of the secessionists. Apprehensions of such a proceeding were 
entertained. Naval discipline requires from the crew implicit 
obedience. When sectionalism was rampant, and whole com 
munities were in arms against the government, and men most 
honored and of the highest standing in the civil service were 
unmindful of their allegiance, and when the governments of 
States were arraying themselves in opposition to the Federal 
authority, great caution and circumspection in regard to all 
officers of the South in responsible positions were necessary, 
and especially those whose families and kindred were embarked 
in the rebellion. It should be said, however, to the honor and 
credit of the navy, that though many officers, under a mistaken 
sense of duty to their local government on questions of national 
concern, threw up their commissions and left the service, none 
of them were guilty of the perfidy of Twiggs, and of those 
officers of the revenue marine who broke faith, betrayed their 
trust, and transferred to the insurgents the vessels which were 
confided to them. Harsh as was the proceeding, there was no 
alternative but that of relieving the sectional officers whose 
opinions and views were unknown, as was done in the case of 
the commander of the San Jacinto. It is due to Captain Dornin 
to say that he remained loyal to the government. 

Captain Wilkes, who was ordered to relieve Captain Dornin, 
arrived at Fernando Po and took command of the San Jacinto 
in August. Touching at St. Vincent on his return in September, 
he crossed over and cruised in the West Indies and Caribbean 
sea in search of the Sumter and other rebel privateers if any 
were abroad. At Cienfuegos, on the south coast of Cuba, he was 
informed that Messrs. Mason and Slidell had on the night of 
the 12th of October secretly and successfully run the blockade, 
and were on a hostile errand against the government. Learning 
that they were to take passage on the Trent, an English packet 
steamer a merchant vesselCaptain Wilkes proceeded with the 
San Jacinto to the old Bahama channel, and took position at a 
point where it is contracted, in order to intercept and search 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 263 

the professedly neutral vessel which in disregard of neutral 
obligations was carrying these avowed enemies of his country on 
a hostile errand. The English government had, by recognizing 
the rebels as belligerents and placing them on terms of equality 
with the United States, left no doubt that he possessed the un- 
question belligerent right of search, and, if contraband were 
found, to capture. He exercised and enforced the right by board 
ing on the 8th of November off the light-house of Paredom del 
Grande, and searching the British packet, and found, after some 
equivocation by the captain of the Trent, these rebel com 
missioners who were "bent on mischievous and traitorous errands 
against our country." Written despatches, he became satisfied 
from an examination of international and British authorities, 
were contraband, and liable with the vessel which conveyed them 
to seizure. Without searching for and seizing papers, he says, he 
considered these emissaries of the rebels as the "embodiment" 
of despatches, was convinced that their mission was adverse to 
the Union and criminally hostile to his government; he had 
consequently no hesitation in seizing them. But while seizing 
the emissaries he, for reasons which to him seemed sufficient, 
omitted to make prize of the Trent, and send her and the emish 
saries with the despatches into the courts for adjudication. His 
motive in this omission was disinterested and generous, but it was 
an error which, under the subsequent imperious demands of the 
English government, was made to vitiate his proceedings. The 
right of a naval commander to arrest an ambassador or emissary 
on a hostile mission against his government from on board a 
neutral vessel may be a controverted question, but there is no 
doubt that a different tribunal than that of the quarter-deck 
should decide on that as on the legality of all captures, and as 
to what is contraband. Captain Wilkes was satisfied he had the 
right to capture vessels with written despatches,- he considered 
these messengers on a hostile errand were the embodiment of 
despatches, and consequently amenable to capture, and the 
neutral vessel in which they were embarked a good prize; but 
arresting the commissioners, he forbore to seize the Trent, and 
send her, with the commissioners whose transportation violated 
her neutrality, into the courts for adjudication. 

264 Civil War and Reconstruction 

Mason and Slidell, the two rebel emissaries thus arrested, 
were men of ability, but of different habits, temperaments, and 
mental calibre. Mason was ardent, impetuous, and arrogant; 
Slidell was crafty, cool, and designing. Each had been active, con 
spicuous, and mischievous in fomenting political disturbance and 
forwarding the secession movement. Mason, inflated with the 
supercilious assumption of the superior capacity and higher 
order of statemanship which prevailed in the Old Dominion, 
had not at first proposed or intended a division of the Union, 
but that Virginia, "the Mother of States," should on great oc 
casions be the mediator or mentor, and direct the course of her 
co-States and the Union. State rights meant with him Virginia 
rights; republican government was found in the ancient com 
monwealth, whose statesmen in his view framed the Constitution 
and were the chief architects of the Federal Government. Vir 
ginia had moreover furnished most of the earlier Presidents. His 
dislike and contempt of the Yankees he did not conceal, but 
took pride in proclaiming. In legislation he was on all party 
questions and with him questions generally assumed a party 
character like most modern Virginians in office, a sectionalist 
of narrow views, which, except on the subject of slavery, scarcely 
extended beyond the boundaries of Virginia. Professing a deep 
regard for State rights, and when he entered the Senate pro 
found veneration for the Federal Constitution, which he in 
sisted must be strictly and literally construed, he nevertheless 
introduced a bill for the capture and rendition of fugitive slaves 
a measure that was more arbitrary and centralizing than any 
ever previously proposed by the ultra consolidationists of Massa 
chusetts. It was a gratification to him to impose the offensive 
provisions of that questionable constitutional enactment upon 
the law-abiding people of the non-slaveholding States. Although 
a manifest stretch of Federal authority, this measure, obnoxious 
to freemen, was under the exaction of party discipline, and what 
was called the spirit of compromise, assented to and adopted as 
a concession by the timid and calculating time-savers of the 
period. This concession, instead of allaying sectional animosity, 
which was the excuse of those who in -the non-slaveholding States 
gave in support, only increased it, and the arrogance of those 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 2i5 

who procured the enactment. Mason and Ms associates were 
confirmed, by the tame acquiescence of leading party men of 
the North in this measure, in the silly idea that the people of 
the free States were without much political principle, sub 
servient and submissive mere hucksters, immersed in trade and 
money-gettingengaged in menial manual labor, like the sorrile 
race in Virginia about as destitute of any just pretension to 
statesmanship and manly independence consequently unfit to 
make laws or administer the government, and incapable of 
properly managing public affairs. A visit which he made to 
Boston after his success in imposing on the people the fugitive 
slave law, where he was received and treated with sycophantic 
adulation, convinced him the Yankees were deficient in manly 
spirit, and needed Virginians to govern and inculcate in them 

Descended himself from one of the old and wealthy families 
which had given laws and government to Virginia, he prided 
himself on hereditary honors and the nobility of blood. It was 
this, he assumed, which had made the royal colony of Virginia 
a favored province in colonial times; and opportunities in the 
war of independence, and subsequently in the organization of 
the national government, had developed the superior talents 
of her cavaliers and proved them to be heroes and statesmen. 

Mason was a pretty correct representative and exponent of 
the thought and sentiment of the people of his State at the 
beginning of the war. For several months in the early part of 
1861, it was alike ludicrous and painful to witness the self-suf 
ficiency, inaction, and supercilious assumption of the Virginia 
Convention, then assembled in Richmond. That assemblage, 
which met in February, lingered through March and into April, 
idle spectators of the progress of the rebellion, in the vain and 
preposterous expectation that Virginia, whose statesmen main 
tained as a fundamental principle the political equality of the 
States, would be appealed to, and her Convention constituted an 
umpire to arbitrate between the Federal Government and the 
insurrectionary States-as if Virginia occupied a higher posi 
tion than the others. That Convention remained in session for 
weeks, buttoned up in its dignity and culpably inert, waiting to 

266 Civil War and Reconstruction 

advise the President that he must not presume to perform his 
whole executive dutiesthat the national government was a 
failure, and that a revision of the Constituton, with "new 
guarantees" for the South and for slavery, was indispensable to 
pacification. The Constitution under which the country had 
grown and prospered for seventy years, as no other country in 
the world had in so brief a period ever grown and prospered, 
which had been extolled by Virginians so long as Virginia was 
in the ascendant and had a controlling voice in the administra 
tion, was insufficient with a Republican chief magistrate for 
whom Virginia had not voted, and was wholly impotent for 
present excited party necessities. Virginia, therefore, through her 
Convention, did nothing, but waited in silent dignity to inform 
the President, so soon as he should appeal to that body for in 
struction, that a national convention must be called to incor 
porate "new guarantees" in the fundamental law for the protec 
tion and security of the South. If in the mean time he attempted 
to exercise the authority with which he was invested, and in 
the legitimate discharge of his duties should undertake to pro 
vision and reinforce Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, 
in the sovereign State of South Carolina, he was told that 
Virginia and her Union Convention, elected by a majority of 
sixty thousand over the secessionists, would forthwith make 
common cause with South Carolina. Such was the intelligence 
communicated to Prseident Lincoln on the 4th of April, 1861, 
just one month after his inauguration, by a messenger deputed 
to convey to him and the Administration information of the 
attitude and purpose of the Union Convention of Virginia. The 
counsels and statesmanship of the Tylers and Floyds and Masons 
prevailed in 1861. They were in patriotism and good sense in 
strong contrast with the practical wisdom of Washington, Jef 
ferson, Madison, and others of an earlier period. The Virginia 
of the middle of the nineteenth century was not the Virginia of 
1776 and 1800, in position, mind, or character. 

President Lincoln listened with amazement to the statements 
of the representatives whom the Union men in the Richmond 
Convention had deputed to convey to him their views and the 
reasons why they remained inactive. The fact that such an 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 267 

assemblage, composed of professed Union mm, had been con 
vened in the principal border State, professedly to sustain the 
Union, had delayed decisive action on his part, in the hope that 
wisdom, patriotism, and fidelity to the government would so 
mark their course as to check insurrection and strengthen the 
Administration. But the long-continued and idle session of feeble 
but self-presuming minds, instead of benefiting the Union cause 
which they had been elected to promote, became a hindrance 
and embarrassment He had been legally and cm&titetionally 
elected Chief Magistrate, and was sworn to discharge his duties 
in conformity to law, not under the directions of the Vitginia 
Convention, nor with a view to a National Convention or a re 
vision of the Constitution, nor to establish "new guarantees" 
for any section or party. 

Mason, though violent in his sectional demands and ulti 
mately an extreme secessionist, had not anticipated that our 
federal system would be broken up by these requirements; but 
inspired by Calhoun, with whom he was associated in the Sen 
ate during the last two or three years of that gentleman s life, 
he entertained schemes to strengthen the waning fortunes of the 
South, so long in the ascendant, by what was denominated * new 
guarantees," which were to be incorporated and unalterably 
fixed in the Constitution. The scheme of "new guarantees/* 
originally a device to secure and perpetuate sectional power 
for the South, became subsequently, after the rebellion was sup 
pressed, the party battle-cry and engine of their radical op 
ponents in their centralizing operations in the opposite direction. 
With his low estimate of the spirit and courage of the Yankees, 
confirmed by the submissive obsequiousness of the Bostonians 
already mentioned, and the omission of Congress to make prep 
aration to enforce national authority, Mason expected the man 
date of Virginia through her Union Convention, which he and 
Tyler had labored to bring about, would be effective with die 
Administration, or if a collision took place at Sumter, that 
there would be but a feeble exhibit against the matured and 
well-organized force of the insurrectionists. The national up 
rising when the flag was assaulted astonished him, but from 
his previous arrogance, threats, and audacity, no alternative was 

268 Civil War and Reconstruction 

left him except to unite with South Carolina, and he became 
engulfed with and fully committed to the extreme secessionists. 
Although not possessed of diplomatic talent, or calculated to 
make a very profound impression in England, his former official 
position, his name and State made his appointment acceptable 
to those whom he was chosen to represent. 

John Slidell, a native of New York, who had emigrated to and 
accumulated a great fortune in New Orleans, was inherently an 
opponent of our federal system and of popular government. 
Mason had an aversion to the Yankees and did not conceal it. 
SlidelFs dislike of popular government and of the participation 
of the masses in administration was not merely sectional but 
general. He had little sympathy with the people North or South, 
but did not openly avow his want of confidence in them or his 
low estimate of their intelligence and capability for self-govern 
ment. Although associated with the Democratic party and of 
humble origin, he was from principle and conviction, fostered 
by political and pecuniary success, a centralist, an aristocrat, and 
an advocate of a strong government. In his estimation our fed 
erative system was a political, and would prove to be an abso 
lute failure. With this belief he thought the sooner the Union 
was dissolved, and governments with more circumscribed terri 
tory but clothed with ample powers established, the better for 
all. The doctrine that the people can and will govern wisely 
and well, he deemed a fallacy that must sooner or later be cor 
rected. They were to be governed, and there must be power in 
the government to govern them and compel obedience. He was 
one of a class of politicians, more numerous probably than is 
supposed, who are centralists in feeling, though democratic in 
their professions and associations. The organizations which grew 
up under our colonial system were admitted to have been stud 
ied and improved when they threw off British allegiance. The 
march of power is onward. During the Revolutionary war a 
common cause and foreign ememies had banded the colonies 
together, and made the old Articles of Confederation, which all 
knew was only a league, answer for a general government. But, 
relieved from outward pressure after the peace of 1783, discord 
prevailed, and the confederation was found weak and inefficient. 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 269 

The States on that low standard could not harmonize and have 
effective unity and strength. More power was needed, and the 
Federal Constitution, with greater and more clearly defined 
but still insufficient power, was substituted. This was another 
step toward a more efficient and better government. For a time, 
when there were but three or four millions of people with a 
limited territory, this had answered the purpose. But its day was 
about over. In his view and that of his class it was impossible 
for our expanded domain and increased population to long con 
tinue under one central head. If this country is to have one 
general government, its powers cannot be restricted, nor those 
administering it kept within any arbitrary written constitution 
al limitations. Scope and elasticity are essential. There must be 
homogeneity if we would have nationality. The federal system 
of divided sovereignty between the general and State govern 
ments, with a varied climate, dissimilarity in the institutions of 
the States, in their productive industry, in the condition of society 
and the structure of the local government, are all so conflicting 
that the system must if not made stronger fall to pieces. TTie 
theory that a laboring population without commerce and wealth 
can exercise the powers of government might be carried out in 
a small and purely agricultural community of limited wants; but 
it was absurd to suppose that those engaged in daily manual 
labor can comprehend and provide for the great commercial and 
manufacturing necessities of a continent, or develop the resources 
and manage the finances of a great nation. There must, by the 
theory of Slidell and his school, which is substantially that of 
Hamilton, be a governing and governed class. Slidell, like all 
men of that political faith, expected to be one of the former and 
was not scrupulous as to the means by which he obtained power. 
The immense frauds and corruption which have since disgraced 
the elections of Louisiana, and, alas! too many of the States, 
destroying confidence in the integrity and fairness of elections, 
may be traced in a great degree to John Slidell. If he had not 
the bold audacity of Jefferson Davis, nor the impetuous ar 
rogance of Mason, he was quite as unscrupulous, and had the 
more crafty, subtle, and scheming qualities which are insinuating, 
and which influence fancied leaders in their intrigues and 

270 Civil War and Reconstruction 

aspirations. If not the prominent man in the rebellion, he was, 
perhaps beyond any other, the mischievous and in its inception 
one of the controlling minds in the secession conspiracy. 

The rebels had expected, not without reason, early recog 
nition by and assistance from foreign governments, particularly 
England and France. These two lately prominent Senators one 
from "the Old Dominion/ the "Mother of States," ancient Vir 
ginia, the principal border commonwealth; the other from the 
wealthy planting and commercial State of Louisiana, himself 
a resident of New Orleans, the emporium of the great central 
valley of the Union itself an empire were not inappropriately 
selected to represent the proposed new confederacy the former 
in England, the other in France. 

In the general gratification which was felt and expressed, 
when intelligence of their arrest was received, the Administra 
tion fully sympathized; but there were unsettled and controverted 
questions attending the proceeding which, if England were 
captious and pugnacious, would be likely to cause serious em 
barrassment. The President, with whom I had an interview 
immediately on receiving information that the emissaries were 
captured and on board the San Jacinto, before consultation with 
any other member of the Cabinet, discussed with me some of the 
difficult points presented. His chief anxiety for his attention had 
never been turned to admiralty law and naval captures was as 
to the disposition of the prisoners, who, to use his own expression, 
would be elephants on our hands, that we could not easily dispose 
of. Public indignation was so overwhelming against the chief 
conspirators, that he feared it would be difficult to prevent se 
vere and exemplary punishment, which he always deprecated. 

The subject came early before the Cabinet for consideration, 
when it appeared that Captain Wilkes had acted on his own 
responsibility in making the arrest, without instruction or sug 
gestion from the Government. His official reports confirmed this. 
These reports and the particulars of the capture had not then 
been received. The information or rumor did not call for im 
mediate action, nor until we had the official reports could any 
be intelligently taken. There was joy and gratulation that the 
messengers of mischief were arrested, but the question of the 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 271 

legality or illegality of the proceeding was but slightly alluded 
to. Discussion of these topics and decision were postponed until 
the whole facts were presented. 

The San Jacinto, touching first at Hampton Roads, arrived 
in New York on the 18th of November. H^the Trent with the 
hostile emissaries and their despatches, been brought in as prize, 
the case would have gone into the courts for adjudication, and, 
from what has transpired, not unlikely thence have passed into 
the region of diplomacy; but the Trent not having been cap 
tured, the prisoners went summarily into the custody of the 
United States Marshal, who by order of the Secretary of State 
accompanied them in the San Jacinto to Boston, and on the 
24th of November delivered them to Colonel Dimmick, keeper 
of Fort Warren. 

The Government in the mean time having come to no con 
clusion, it devolved on me after receiving the reports of Captain 
Wilkes, which had been studiously and carefully prepared, to 
make the first public communication and take the first official 
step, by acknowledging their reception, recognizing Ms act, and 
either to congratulate or censure him on his achievement. Besides 
this, I was under the necessity of communicating in my annual 
report to the President, just then in preparation, a transaction of 
this magnitude and importance connected with the navy and the 
Navy Department, that he might at his discretion present it in 
his message to Congress, about to convene, and to the country. 
There was some diversity of opinion in the Cabinet on the 
proceedings in the capture of these men and the consequences 
which might grow out of it. There were, besides any irregularity 
on the part of Captain Wilkes, points in regard to the obligations 
of neutrals and the rights of belligerents not clearly defined, 
which, in the excited condition of the public mind, were but 
lightly discussed or considered by the press or people. It ms 
with them sufficient that these messengers on an errand hostile 
to the government were prisoners in our possession. They were 
rebel conspirators by our own laws. By international law, after 
foreign governments recognized the rebels as belligerents, they 
were public enemies, as much so as if they had been military 
officers in uniform that were being transported on this neutral 

272 Civil War and Reconstruction 

vessel, and they were on a mission more harmful. In what man 
ner the English Ministry, notoriously in sympathy with the rebels, 
would receive the intelligence and treat the proceedings, which 
were in some respects irregular, was a matter of interest and 
doubt. If the precedents and example which England had fur 
nished under somewhat similar circumstances were regarded, she 
could consistently take no serious exceptions. But the unfriendly 
and almost unneutral course which Great Britain had pursued 
toward our government, led the more cautious and considerate 
to apprehend she would presume upon our domestic difficulties 
and be exacting. 

The Administration, until there were returns from England, 
could not anticipate that she would avail herself of any irregu 
larity to take a hostile attitude. If the naval officer for humane 
reasons had omitted to make prize of the Trent, which vessel in 
violation of neutral obligations was knowingly conveying public 
enemies of the United States on a hostile mission, that was in 
itself no cause of offense to Great Britain, though a technical 
error might have been committed. Had our country been united 
and this occurence taken place with Spain or some other foreign 
power, England would not have been likely, without inquiry, 
communication, or waiting for explanation, or ascertaining 
whether the proceeding was authorized by our Government, to 
have made instant preparation for war. But unfortunately our 
country was then crippled, and Palmerston and Russell well knew 
it. The Administration felt that we were in no condition to 
embark in a foreign war, whatever might be the justice of our 

The general indignation against England was so great at 
the time, that a conflict with her would not have been unac 
ceptable to many. Concession to her was denounced, and the 
act of Wilkes applauded, regardless of consequences. The people, 
if not less earnest than the Administration, were more impulsive 
and headlong. The Government was criticised as slow and hesi 
tating, while the people were determined. Men acting without 
responsibility can be not only determined but boisterous. While 
the Administration was deliberate and cautious in its movements, 
it was as determined and firm as those who assailed it. 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 273 

Among the difficulties to be met was that of so responding to 
Captain Wilkes, who was the hero of the day, as not to repress 
the national enthusiasm. On the part of the Navy Department 
it was especially important that no step should be taken which 
would deter officers from a vigilant and energetic discharge of 
their delicate and responsible duties. A long interval of peace 
and a strict observance of the rights of neutrals, rigidly enforced, 
had led many officers to doubt and distrust their legitimate 
authority and their more comprehensive duty in war. They were 
at first reluctant to exercise the unquestioned belligerent right 
of search, detention, and capture of neutrals that violated neu 
tral obligations, lest they might be held personally responsible. 
Some very unfortunate mistakes were committed early in con 
sequence of this reluctance, by which blockade-runners and ves 
sels with contraband escaped. And it was felt to be impolitic, 
while enjoining and stimulating officers to discharge their duty, 
to reflect upon the audacity of Wilkes, who might have gone to 
the other extreme. It was not difficult to compliment his intel 
ligence, ability, decision, and firmness all of which qualities he 
had displayed, whatever mistakes or errors of judgment were 
committed. The unsettled and controverted questions were, by 
his summary proceedings and quarter-deck adjudications, carried 
beyond the courts to which matters of prize and naval capture 
should be submitted. Nevertheless the Navy Department was 
bound to take cognizance of the act, and to do this in such a 
way as not to compromise the Government, nor to run counter 
to public feeling and chill the prevailing patriotic sentiment, 
nor to wound the feelings of an officer who in his zeal to render 
a great service might have transcended his authority. On the 
other hand, it would not do to sanction or give countenance to 
the violation of neutral obligations in transporting known public 
enemies under a professedly neutral flag. These were some of 
the perplexing and embarrassing points to be met and mentioned 
in my official letter to Captain Wilkes, and in my annual report, 
in that disturbed and excited condition of our foreign and 
domestic affairs. 

Mason and Slidell were delivered over from the San Jacinto 
to Fort Warren, in Boston harbor, as already mentioned, on the 

274 Civil War and 

24th of November; and the Administration having come to no 
conclusion, I on the 30th addressed the following letter to 
Captain Wilkes: 

commanding U.S.S. San Jacinto, Boston. 


I congratulate you on your safe arrival, and especially 
do I congratulate you on the great public service you have 
rendered in the capture of the rebel commissioners Messrs. 
Mason and Slidell, who have been conspicuous in the con 
spiracy to dissolve the Union; and it is well known that, 
when seized by you, they were on a mission hostile to the 
Government and the country. 

Your conduct in seizing these public enemies was marked 
by intelligence, ability, decision, and firmness, and has the 
emphatic approval of this Department. It is not necessary that 
I should in this communication which is intended to be one 
of congratulation to yourself, officers and crew express an 
opinion on the course pursued in omitting to capture the 
vessel which had these public enemies on board, further 
than to say that the forbearance exercised in this instance 
must not be permitted to constitute a precedent hereafter 
for infractions of neutral obligations. 

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant, 


At the same time I, in the following extract, presented the 
subject, with the yearly transactions of the navy, in my annual 
report to the President and the country, embracing the same 
general views: 

The prompt and decisive action of Captain Wilkes on 
this occasion merited and received the emphatic approval of 
the Department; and if a too generous forbearance was 
exhibited by him in not capturing the vessel which had 
these rebel enemies on board, it may, in view of the special 
circumstances and of its patriotic motives, be excused; but 
it must by no means be permitted to constitute a precedent 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidett 275 

hereafter for the treatment of any case of similar infraction 
of neutral obligations by foreign vessels engaged in com 
merce or the carrying trade. 

The President did not deem it expedient to allude to this 
subject in his message, not having received word from England, 
but he personally expressed his cordial approval of my letter and 
report, which he thought were well timed and would be satis 
factory and unexceptionable to all concerned. There was in 
neither the letter nor report any positive disapproval of the pro 
ceedings of Captain Wilkes, unless the allusion to his forbearance 
toward the Trent, which vessel had disregarded neutral obliga 
tions, be deemed such. No mention was made of the neglect to 
search for and seize despatches. Some there were who thought 
there should have been no reserve in the thanks, and excepted to 
the qualified congratulations to the officer. The House of Repre 
sentatives, which convened three days after my letter was pub 
lished, took occasion on the first day of the session, as already 
mentioned, by a unanimous vote, to tender "the thanks of 
Congress to Captain Wilkes for his arrest of the traitors SHddl 
and Mason." 

The rebels were convulsed with indignation and mortified 
rage when they heard that the embassy from which so much was 
expected had been intercepted, and that the commissioners 
after escaping the blockade were prisoners. But their wrath was 
soon assuaged in the belief that the capture of the conspirators 
on an English vessel would prove a special dispensation in favor 
of the rebellion. The sympathy of the English Ministry in behalf 
of the secessionists was well understood, and the delay to recog 
nize the Confederacy had been a vexation. Nor ware these ex 
pectations without foundation, for on reception of the informa 
tion that the belligerent emissaries had been taken from the 
neutral steamer Trent, the English Government, on mere ex 
parte rumor, commenced immediate preparations for war. 
Troops^ arms, and munitions were ordered forthwith to Canada; 
the British North American and West Indian squadrons were 
at once increased, and by a royal proclamation the disposal of 
arms and the shipment of saltpetre and sales of war supplies 

276 Civil War and Reconstruction 

were prohibited. Under these warlike demonstrations of the 
Ministry, on the daim that there had been an affront to the 
British flag, the act of Wilkes, which had abundant precedents 
in British naval annals, was denounced as an outrage and insult. 
The people of England were aroused by exaggerated misrepre 
sentations to intense excitement, and a peremptory demand was 
made by the English Government for the immediate and uncon 
ditional delivery of these belligerent messengers, guilty of treason 
to their country, and on a hostile errand against it, to the pro 
tection of the English flag. 

Under adverse circumstances, a compliance with this peremp 
tory demand accompanied by warlike preparations was deemed 
expedient. The Secretary of State, whose gratification that his 
old senatorial associates had been intercepted on their hostile 
errand was unsurpassed, had discredited every suggestion that 
Great Britain would avail herself of any technical error of the 
officer, and take serious exception to the proceeding. It was, he 
claimed, in conformity with British ruling and British practice; 
and if the commander of the San Jacinto had erred in permitting 
the Trent to proceed, it was not for that government to take 
advantage of his mistaken generosity by which they had been 
benefited. But on the 21st of December Earl Russell s despatch 
was received, and Mr. Seward felt that the country, struggling 
to maintain the national existence, was not in a condition to 
engage in a foreign war. It was an occasion when forbearance was 
necessary. Although an ungracious task, it gave the Secretary of 
State an opportunity to display that diplomatic ability, tact, and 
skill for which he was eminently distinguished, in a despatch 
which had the effect of conciliating public feeling, allaying 
apprehended discontent, disappointing the rebels, and compelling 
the English Ministry to refrain from further open belligerent 

It is not the object of this article to discuss the merits of 
any of the several questions, domestic and international, that 
were involved in these proceedings. They are purposely avoided, 
for they belong to the publicists. From the turn ultimately taken, 
British precedents appear to have been reversed, and points of 
international law which had been long in dispute are likely to 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 277 

be finally settled on American principles. My purpose lias been 
to relate facts connected with governmental proceedings, some ol 
which have not in all respects been correctly stated or rightly 
understood. There were from the first honest differences In rela 
tion to the rectitude and legality of the doings of the naval 
officer, involving, as already mentioned, belligerent rights and 
neutral obligations. 

The Trent, a neutral vessel, had taken on board and was 
conveying messengers or commissioners, whom its captain and 
all others knew to be on an errand hostile to the United States. 
This was considered such an infraction of neutral obligations 
as rendered the Trent liable to seizure. It was for the courts to 
decide whether the vessel engaged in this unfriendly act, in 
derogation of neutrality, was or was not good prize, and subject 
to condemnation, or whether the officer who stopped and 
searched her and seized the messengers of evil had probable 
cause to justify his act. Whether Captain Wilkes was justifiable 
at this stage of the proceedings in arresting these pretended 
ambassadors of an organization which had no legal existence 
among nations, and taking upon himself the right to adjudicate 
the question, and not only to adjudicate but the executive 
power to relinquish the prize, were matters that belonged 
to the courts, publicists, and other branches of the govern 
ment, rather than the Navy Department. In the then con 
dition of affairs, foreign and domestic, and especially the 
state of public feeling in the United States, I did not, in my 
letter of congratulation, deem it advisable to "express an opinion 
on the course pursued in omitting to capture the vessel/* and I 
so explicitly and in direct but mild and considerate terms 
stated; but that such an infraction of neutral obligations as that 
committed by the Trent, and which Captain Wilkes had per 
mitted to pass unpunished, must not be made a precedent in 
future proceedings. 

When the emissaries were delivered over to the custody of 
the marshal, and were transferred to Fort Warren, the disposi 
tion of the prisoners became a political and diplomatic rather 
than a naval question. The capture was never adjudicated; the 
whole subject passed over the courts into the region of diplomacy. 

278 Civil War and Reconstruction 

Had the English Ministry, with customary courtesy, waited to 
ascertain whether the prisoners were arrested by order of our 
Government, or had they taken no harsh exceptions to what in 
its worst form was but an error of judgment on the part of 
an officer viligant to discharge his duty, and left these rebel 
conspirators, who were citizens of the United States, with the 
Government of the United States, Mason and Slidell would, as 
President Lincoln remarked in his first interview with me on 
the day when information of the arrest was received, have been 
indeed elephants on our hands. But the peremptory demand for 
their restoration to the protection of Great Britain, accompanied 
with warlike demonstrations, to rescue them from amenability 
to the violated laws of their country, relieved, even if it humili 
ated us, of the "elephants." The surrender of the prisoners to 
the imperious demands of England, and the adroit despatch 
of the Secretary of State, preserved peace, which at the time was 
with us a national necessity. Of the strict analogy or parallel 
between British impressment of American seamen on board of 
American vessels, whom England for years forced into her serv 
ice, and compelled under the lash to fight the battles of England, 
and the arrest by an American officer of American criminals on a 
hostile errand against our government, embarked on a professed 
neutral vessel, it is not necessary in this place to make any ex 
tended remarks. It may be said, however, that the hundreds of 
American seamen impressed by England during a long series of 
years, were not public enemies of that country on a hostile mis 
sion against Great Britain. They were Americans, our country 
men, peacably employed in their profession, constituting parts, 
and often essential parts, of the crews of the vessels from which 
they were torn. It is not required to say how unlike to the case 
of these humble American seamen, serving for wages on an 
American vessed, was that of Mason and Slidell, insurgents but 
public belligerent enemies, who had been officially and osten 
tatiously entertained by the English consul at Havana, and were, 
made prisoners by Wilkes, being transported in their assumed 
official capacity on board the English neutral steamer Trent. 
The Queen, in her proclamation of neutrality, had warned her 
"loving subjects" against "carrying officers, soldiers, despatches, 

The Capture and Release of Mason and Slidell 279 

arms/ etc., and assured them if they did so they would "incur 
and be liable to the several penalties and consequences by the 
said [English] statutes or by the law of nations." 

The English government and people were not insensible to 
the facts when presented, and felt rebuked by the contrast be 
tween the action of the two governments. The result was, the 
mission of these conspirators, undertaken with such high pre 
tensions, was rendered abortive and fruitless. Official neglect, 
and, as they claimed, indifference and discourtesy attended them. 
The Ministry, after what had transpired, could not, whatever 
were their sympathies with the rebels, foster these men, or receive 
and treat them as ambassadors from a legitimate government. 
They therefore accomplished nothing at the courts by which 
they strove to be recognized, but were slighted and avoided. 
Each lingered a suppliant near the government to which he had 
been sent, unrecognized and disregarded. 

When the rebellion was suppressed they found themselves 
homeless and aliens. Mason left England and had a vagabond 
residence of two or three years in Canada. Some time after the 
war closed he came quietly and humbly to Virginia, a broken- 
down old man, and finding his once pleasant home in the 
valley of the Shenandoah desolated by war, he retired to the 
vicinity of Alexandria, where he died an obscure and miserable 
death in April, 1871. 

Slidell, disappointed, worn down and mortified, sought from 
President Johnson pardon and safe passport to revisit this 
country, but was told he could have no special privileges, and if 
he returned he must not expect exemption above others. He 
therefore spent the rest of his days in exile, passing the remnant 
of a vicious and intriguing career in reading French fictions, and 
finally died in London in July, 1871-three months after his 
associate, Mason, had been entombed. 


The themes of the greatness of Abra 
ham Lincoln and the dangers of govern 
mental centralization run through the en 
tire series. WeEes s assertions stood 
the test of time, dispelling mistaken no 
tions some of which have persisted to 
this day about Lincoln s procedure and 
policy during the war and Reconstruction. 

Gideon Welles, a member of Lincoln s 
Civil War Cabinet and one of his closest 
supporters, is, perhaps, best known for 
his three-volume diary published at the 
turn of the century. However, these es 
says which appeared long before form an 
important supplement to the diary and 
have become an important source for the 
history of the Civil War. Here, for the 
first time, they have been collected into 
one book. 

ALBERT MORDELL is widely known 
as an editor, compiler, and author. The 
editor of Literary Reviews and Essays of 
Henry James, Mr. Mordeil has also edited 
The Autocrat s Miscellanies, reviews and 
essays by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and 
compiled The World of Haldeman-Julius, 
a selection of H-J s best writings. He has 
edited many articles by Lafcadio Hearn, 
which he was the first to collect. He is 
the author of The Erotic Motive in Liter 
ature and Quaker Militant: John Green- 
leaf Whittier, 


New York 3